Wednesday, May 30, 2012

A Trip to the Post Office

The girls all tucked in after playing the mail game
As children, my mom used to play a bedtime game with my siblings and me that she called the Mail Game.  She would tuck our blankets in super tight.  Then she'd pretend to lick us shut like an envelope.  Next she would address us and finally she would pretend to lick her hand and then slap a stamp on our foreheads and mail us away somewhere fun.  I played this game for the first time with my own kids last week.  They thought it was great and beg for me to play it again every night.

Today we went to see how our mail gets to our house the real way.  Joy's class took a field trip today to our local postal sorting facility.  I went as a chaperone and took the big kids along since I knew they'd enjoy it as well.

Our tour started with each child sitting in the driver's seat of a mail truck, beeping the horn and then climbing out the back.  As I helped each child down from the back, I asked them what sort of mail they were.  Some kids were letters to their grandmas, one girl was a party invitation, Joy was a box of strawberries, Lizzy was a new toy (I think she confused the USPS with UPS), and David was a box of candy.

Next we went to the store front and each child stepped up to the counter and bought a postage stamp to place on their letters that they'd written in class.  Once all the stamps were bought and affixed, we walked to the mail box and each child put their letter inside.  They all looked very excited to be mailing something important.

Now the fun came.  We went into the back and watched a sorting machine in action.  I have to say that my big kids were a lot more impressed with the speed of the sorting machine than Joy's class.  David got as close as he could to examine the machine, asked a lot of questions, and did his best to figure the machine out.  Lizzy took a detour away from the class to see the entire length of the slots that the sorted mail went into.

Our next stop was the weighing station where all the kids got on a giant scale--549 pounds all together!  Then each child stepped on the scale by themselves.  The parents emphatically refused to step on the scale despite the many little protests.  Grown ups just aren't that interested in broadcasting their weight to the world.

The final stop was the most fun for the kids.  We got to go into the back of an empty semi truck.  Once we were all in, our tour guide told us to all jump as hard as we could and get the semi shaking.  This was the highlight of the trip for all three of my kids.  They really got that truck rocking.

And now in a few days, Joy will get the mail and find her own letter tucked inside.  I noticed the letter was addressed just to me, so I can't wait to get it.  I wish I could include a few pictures but they have a "no pictures" policy at the post office for security reasons.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

We Took to the Woods...And Survived To Tell About It

Campsite prepared for the rain that never came

We took the kids camping for the first time this past weekend.  I grew up camping.  Hubby and I went camping as newlyweds.  I should be a pro at this camping thing.  Right?  WRONG!  I started packing Thursday morning.  I went online and found a packing list and printed it off because I didn't want to forget anything.  I started collecting all the junk we would need.  TONS of junk.  So much junk I didn't even know how we were going to get it all in the van and camper.

Hubby called me from work to see how packing was going and I almost started crying.  I had no idea it took so much STUFF to go camping with kids.  Air mattresses, sleeping bags, sheets, pillows, blankets, bath towels, beach towels, dish towels, pots, pans, cooking utensils, silverware, plates, cups, a coffee pot, hot pads, a cooking stove, a portable grill, gas for cooking, wash pans, and on and on and on and on until my head was about to explode!  And yes, we used every bit of the things we brought and I only forgot three things--the toaster, hot sauce, and grits--all the things Hubby specifically asked me to pack.  We shoved it into the camper and the back of the van.  I didn't think it was all going to fit, but a camper doubles as a great trailer.

Joy peeking out of  the camper

We left for the camp ground late Friday afternoon.  The second we got to camp the litany started--Can we go swimming?  Can we go fishing?  Can we go play at the playground?  Can we go play with our friends?  NO!  You have to help us set up the tent and the camper.  After a half hour of trying to direct three kids with ants in their pants, we sent them off to play at the playground with their friends.  We had a bit of help from a group of burly teen boys to get our camper situated on our site.  Then the previous owner of the camper we borrowed came over to show us how to get the camper set up correctly.  After about two hours of Hubby and I sweating and huffing and puffing, camp was set up and we were ready to join our friends around their campfire for s'mores.

At 10:00pm we put the kids to bed.  At 11:00pm they were still giggling.  At midnight Lizzy was still awake and went on her third bathroom run of the night.  She finally fell asleep after that.  All three kids were wide awake with the birds at 6:00am and talking up a storm, thus waking up mom and dad.

So we decided the best way to get our kids to sleep Saturday night was to wear them out.  We fished--Lizzy learned how to bait her own hook and between the three kids they went through twenty night crawlers and caught about thirty little bluegills and one turtle in two days, we went for walks in the woods and watched a work crew build a new bridge across the river, they swam and played in the sand, they played on the playground, they ran around with their friends, half the time I don't even know what they were doing or where they were, but they always came back when they were hungry.  By 9:00pm they were begging us to put them to bed.  Mission accomplished.

Hiking to the very tiny waterfall

Looking for fish at the waterfall

After dinner, I was innocently doing dishes at the picnic table when David comes walking down the road saying he brought me a present.  I'm used to David's presents so I knew it was something gross.  He walks up with a big snake wrapped around his arms!  He told me it was a water snake, but I could see that it was a garter snake.  But since he said it was a water snake, I felt compelled to warn him that he needed to be careful with water snakes since we do have one poisonous one in Michigan.  So he DROPPED. IT. AT. MY. FEET!!!!!  I screamed!  I jumped up onto the picnic table!  I shrieked and told him to pick it back up and get it out of my campsite!  The neighbors must have heard me ranting like a freak, because once he caught it again they asked him to bring it so they could see it.  Afterwards, he disposed of it far, far, very far away from me.

The snake--yeck!
Sunday we played some more.  We swam most of the afternoon.  For dinner  Hubby started a campfire because the kids really wanted to cook their hot dogs on a stick over the fire.  They gobbled down their dinner and ran off back to play with their friends while the adults sat around chatting until the sun went down and it was time for bed.

Chopping wood for the fire

Waiting for the fire to start

And now we have (a little) fire
Monday morning came and it was time to pack up.  The kids begged to stay another day.  Joy said that she wanted to stay there forever.  I told her that when she's a grown up, if she wants to live at a campground for the rest of her life, that's fine with me.  But I was going home to my CLEAN house, my SOFT bed, and my BUG-FREE shower.

 We had a lot of fun both with our kids and with our many friends who were also camping with us.  Hubby must have considered it a resounding success because the first thing he did once we got home was check Craigslist for a used camper.  We haven't found the right one yet, but we will.  We might even turn into a...gasp...camping family.  Stranger things have happened.

Looking cute on our hike

Joy was bored so Daddy suggested making a castle out of things she found on the ground

Lizzy collected 102 acorn hats--she counted them and guarded them from everyone

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Gardening is Not for Quitters

My new concrete block planter--hopefully pest proof
 Hubby and I have had a garden for going on nine years.  Our first garden was in a fenced yard in the inner city. Our biggest problem was weeds and keeping it watered.  We could grow almost anything and it always turned out big and healthy.   Those were a glorious four years.

Then we moved to the suburbs where our backyard butts up to woods, no fence, and surrounded by farms.  Our woods are crawling with deer, bunnies, opossums, skunks, wild turkeys, ground hogs, and a whole host of what one would consider garden "pests."

My first attempt at gardening in our new house was a complete success due to Hubby liberally applying Liquid Fence, a liquid that you spray on your plants and it repels animals with its stink.  Its key ingredient is putrescent egg solids.  Sure, I only grew green beans, tomatoes and zucchini, but they were yummy.

My second year of gardening was a flop due to excessive heat and lack of water.  Mainly, my inability to remember to water the garden on a regular basis.  I decided to try adding brussel sprouts and broccoli to my garden.  Within a week some creature discovered said plants and ate them to the ground.  Not a speck of green was left.  I replanted and made liberal use of Liquid Fence and planted marigolds around the boundary which is supposed to detract animals, yet the animals still ate my plants!  I gave up and concentrated on the tomatoes, cucumber and zucchini that the animals seem to leave alone.

Garden with a marigold border
My third year of gardening saw my tomato plants looking lush and green, tall and promising.  Until blight set in. The leaves developed black spots and looked disgusting.  I did still manage to get a good bounty of produce, but not as much as that first year.  That year I tried growing lettuce and carrots.  Ha!  I may as well have set out a sign that said "Rabbit buffet."  I also tried growing tomatoes in a 5-gallon bucket in my sunroom.  I read online that this works, that the plants don't need to be pollinated.  My internet sources were wrong.  While the plant grew nice and green, no fruit grew.

Indoor container gardening attempt--resounding failure
My forth attempt was the summer of mosquitoes.  Every time I stepped out the door to do any sort of yard work, to do any sort of harvesting, a great cloud of mosquitoes descended upon my person and covered me in giant mosquito bite welts.  Needless to say, my zest for gardening waned.  I also learned about straw bale gardening and had to give it a try.  My lack of success led me to the realization that I am not a straw bale gardener.  My garden did produce a respectable harvest--I was well supplied with zucchini, cucumber, tomatoes, hot peppers, and herbs.

So much promise, so little success
This is my fifth season.  You'd think I'd give up after so many failures, but I am determined.  This year Hubby picked out sugar snap peas and brussel sprouts.  I doubted his decision but went along with it.  I bought rabbit fencing a few years ago but never got around to installing it.  This year I did.  I planted all the brussel sprouts and peas in the same area and surrounded them with fence with the hopes that the critters won't destroy my plants.  Hubby built me a nice new concrete block planter that should be pest proof, but I'm not holding my breath.

Joy showing off our fenced in garden plot
Every morning I check on my plants and am happy to see them still standing.  And then four nights ago I was out checking on my garden when I saw it.  Eating a leaf on a brussel sprout plant.  A SLUG!  I took into account every big creature, have used Liquid Fence and regular fence.  I have babied those plants.  Only to be taken down by a slug.  Grrrr!!!!

I did some internet research and found a few ideas to deal with slugs.  I tried spreading coffee grounds around the plants, but that didn't do anything.  Next I tried surrounding the plants with pine needles.  It's only been 24 hours, but so far it seems to be working.  No new leaves have been munched to bits.

I wish I didn't enjoy fresh produce so much.  I wish I would just give up on gardening once and for all.  Every year I swear it's my last.  Yet every single spring finds me at the nursery buying new plants, new seeds, more dirt, mulch, Liquid Fence, and everything else my little garden needs to be successful.  One of these years I am going to get this gardening thing right.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Project Simplify Checkup

I took Lizzy out on a date yesterday.  We went to the library, to McDonalds, and then we went to our local Volunteers of America thrift store to do some summer wardrobe shopping for Lizzy.  While we were looking around I found an awesome bench with storage.    I really wanted it for my mud room but it was too big.  I looked at it, walked away, came back and looked at it again, walked away.  My third trip to look at it Lizzy was with me and said it would make a great toy box for her room.  I agreed.  The price was right so I bought it.

Of course when you add one piece of furniture to a room it requires you to clean up the entire room.  I moved a few things around now that Lizzy's toys were out of the closet.  The girls purged their things yet again and got the room looking spectacular.  So I took a picture.

It reminded me of taking pictures of the room when I participated in Project Simplify hosted by Simplemom back in March.  I then started thinking about how my closets are still looking pretty neat even after two months of use since I organized them.  I had to take a picture.  Then I thought about my kitchen--which is neat behind the cupboard doors but not so great on the counters.  I did not take a picture!  It needs some attention before I would want to show it off.

Girls' room in March

Girls' room today

Inside of the new bench toy box

Girls' closet in March

Girls' closet today

Closet in March
Closet today

Linen closet in March
Linen closet today (with an added bonus)

Monday, May 21, 2012

Dates With the Kids

Holding Lizzy for the first time

Growing up my parents would take us out on date nights every few months.  There was this one restaurant that my mom would take me to, Holly By Golly, that I loved.  The booths were extra tall with a bar for your feet.  We got all the free buttery, salty popcorn that we wanted.  Mom would let me get a pop with free refills.  We would sit and talk and just enjoy being together.  Sometimes we would talk about serious things, sometimes we just joked around.  But my siblings and I always loved when it was our turn for date night.

A year ago I was really struggling with my relationship with Lizzy.  She was in that "yucky stage" that all of my kids seem to have (are in the middle of) going through--age 5-6.  The stage where they realize that they have a will of their own and a desire to be independent from mom.  Where they think they can do whatever they want but lack the wisdom to go along with that desire.  I thought it was a fluke when David went through this stage, but then Lizzy did and now Joy is just starting to enter it.

So, Lizzy and me.  We had daily battles, days where I would look at Lizzy and wonder whose child she was because she surely couldn't be mine.  I wasn't raising brats, was I?  Days where Hubby would come home from work and I was completely exhausted and worn out and at the end of my rope because of putting up with Lizzy's attitude all day.  Moments when I would have to just walk away rather than scream at Lizzy the way I really wanted to.  Not one of my finer moments.

My mom suggested I spend some one-on-one time with Lizzy.  I probably looked at her like she was crazy because the last thing I wanted to do was spend more time with this child that was causing me to turn prematurely gray.  But my mom swears it worked with me when I was going through my own "yucky stage" in middle school, so I decided to give it a try.

I made an appointment and took Lizzy to get a manicure and then out for dinner.  I'm not sure if I have ever seen Lizzy so animated and happy.  She was a real sweetie the entire time.  We didn't talk about anything serious, we just laughed and had fun.  I can't say that Lizzy's behavior suddenly improved, but I can say that my view of Lizzy improved.

Before I was looking at her through tainted glasses.  All I saw were her actions that were annoying me.  I wasn't looking past that to see this child that is a part of me, this child that I love.  I was letting the messiness of Lizzy turn me off to wanting to be with her.

Fast forward to today.  I'm starting to notice Lizzy acting out again.  Being mean to her siblings.  Whining and crying more than usual.  Fighting me on just about anything and everything.  I have prayed for a few weeks about her attitude.  About what I could do to help her.  I had a few ideas that I've been working on--having her help me cook dinner, help me in the garden, things that put us together working.  That seems to be helping but not enough.  This morning I was praying and the idea to take Lizzy out on a date came to mind.  It's been a while.  But life is incredibly busy right now and I had no idea when I was going to be able to find the time.  I prayed that God would make an opportunity for me to be able to do this.

Not five minutes later Hubby comes into the living room and tells me he's sick, that he's calling in to work today so he can watch David.  Joy is at an all day field trip with her school so I don't have to pick her up at lunch time like usual.  I am taking Lizzy out today.  I don't know what we're going to do yet, it doesn't really even matter.  It's just spending time with her that's important.  To remind me how much I love Lizzy.  To remind Lizzy how much I love her.

I know that taking our kids out on regular dates is vital to a good relationship.  Hubby took David on a boys camping trip this past weekend.  I will plan to take Joy out in the near future so she has her special time.  It doesn't matter what we do or what we talk about.  It's just important that we spend time together.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Meijer Ad Matchups: May 20-26

Thank you to Bargains to Bounty for providing highlights of the best Meijer deals for this week! She does her matchups using the metro Detroit Meijer ad, where coupons are doubled up to $0.50.
Visit Meijer’s site for the official coupon policy.
Woohoo for stocking up for grilling season!  Here are a few of my favorite deals:

$0.99 Chi-Chi’s Salsa, 6 oz
-$1.00/2 Chi-Chi’s printable coupon
$0.49 each when you buy 2 with coupon

$1.00 Sweet Baby Ray’s Sauce, 12-18 oz
-$1.00/2 Sweet Baby Ray’s Marinade or Dipping Sauce coupon (from 5-20 SS), if included in sale
$0.50 each when you buy 2 marinade or dipping sauce with coupon

$1.79 Heinz Ketchup 32-36 oz
-$0.25/1 Heinz coupon (from 5-20 SS)
$1.29 after coupon (good price, especially if you’re brand loyal)

$2.50 Sargento Sliced Cheese 6.67-8 oz
-$0.50/1 Sargento Sliced Cheese coupon (from 4-15 SS#1)
$1.50 after coupon

$0.97 Ball Park Meat Franks, 12.8-16 oz all varieties (excludes beef/turkey/Grillmasters), LIMIT 5
-$0.75/2 Ball Park coupon (from 5-6 RP)
$0.60 each when you buy 2 with coupon

Visit Bargains to Bounty for the rest of the deals.

Friday, May 18, 2012

We're Going Camping This Summer...God Help Us

I grew up camping.  We took long family vacations to Yellowstone, the Smokey Mountains, Mammoth Cave, Maine, Boston, Mount Rushmore, Niagra Falls, Canada, Washington D.C., and many many other places.  We camped our way around the country.

Garden of the Gods, Colorado

Some trips were fun.  We saw beautiful scenery, learned new things, met new people, encountered new animals up close and personal (maybe a little too personal at Yellowstone when a buffalo left a deposit right in front of our tent), went whale watching and deep sea fishing, and had some quality family bonding times.

Other trips were not so fun.  We went to a water park and it rained.  We came home to find our tent in a heap sitting in the middle of a lake and had to take everything to the laundromat to dry it out.  Or the time we were in the Badlands and the wind was so strong that we thought the tent was going to collapse on us.  Or the time that we were hiking in the mountains and I slipped and almost plunged over a cliff.  Or the time that we were swimming in a river and I slipped and ended up falling over a (small) waterfall and my dad played the hero and went over the waterfall after me.

But by far the most memorable camping trip happened a few years ago.  Hubby and I used to go camping every summer with a group of our single (and then newly married) friends.  It had been a few years since we put a trip together due to increasing families.  But we really wanted to try to put together a couples' only vacation because we missed hanging out with our friends.  There were six couples in all.  We reserved our sites, set up camp, and had a great first day.  And then it rained.  And rained.  Some of our tents ended up sitting in the middle of a lake.  No one stayed dry.  We decided to spend the first day in town and went out for lunch and to a movie.

The second day it cleared up enough for us to be able to go swimming in Lake Michigan.  It almost made the weekend worth it.  Almost.  Because then...

We came home and were cooking dinner when the rain started up again.  It looked like a fireworks show was going on with all the thunder and lightening.  There we were in the middle of a pine tree forest with only tents and cars and no other shelter.  All of a sudden we heard a crack and half of a tree came crashing down right onto our neighbor's campfire.  The branch burst into flames!  Everyone came rushing over with their water jugs and wash bins to help douse the flames.  After the excitement was over, Hubby and I decided it was time to get in our car and drive somewhere a bit safer, or at least not surrounded by trees.  The power went out all over town.  Roads were completely blocked off due to downed trees and power lines.  To this day I'm not sure if an actual tornado ripped through or if it was just really strong wind.

Once the storm calmed down a bit, Hubby and I returned to camp and went in our tent to escape the rain.  Hubby was zipping up his side of the tent when the zipper broke, thus letting the rain into our tent.  That was the last straw.  We broke camp in less than a half hour and went home early.  I swore after that trip that I would never, ever tent camp again.

Fast forward three years and my kids have been begging us to take them camping this summer.  They make tents out of anything and everything and pretend they are camping.  I broke down and said yes but only if we could borrow a pop-up so that I didn't have to sleep in a tent.  Friends have generously agreed to lend us their camper.  Sleeping bags have been bought, old camping gear has been cataloged and tested, and a list of purchases has been made (flashlights, bug spray, more bug spray, propane for our gas stove, and more bug spray--you really can't have enough bug spray when camping in the middle of the woods).

It looks like we're really going to do this.  I hope that our first family camping experience doesn't turn my kids off to camping forever.  Now I just have to pray that I don't get cold feet between now and when we actually go.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

School in the Summer???

It's only 9:30am here at Ladybug Farms.  Thursdays are always the "good days," the only day of the week when Joy doesn't have preschool.  We all get to sleep in a few extra minutes and we can eat breakfast at our leisure.  

And yet, at 6:50am, as I was just finishing up my prayer time, Hubby joined me on the couch.  Then Lizzy and Joy snuggled up with us.  David joined the party by 7:00am.  We all sat around talking and laughing for a few minutes before Hubby had to get ready for work.  All three kids scattered to get dressed and eat breakfast.  By 8:00am we were sitting around the dining room table ready to start school, earlier than normal. 

The kids were attentive as we learned about Nevada and while I read a book about Frederick Douglass.  They did their math without whining or stalling.  They did their spelling and grammar without complaint.  Joy helped me unload the dishwasher, put away laundry, make my bed and clean the kitchen and bathroom floors.  Now the girls are having a tea party in the kitchen while David is finishing up his writing assignment (or is supposed to be).  

If only every school day could be this easy.

The school year is winding down for most people.  Joy only has three more weeks of preschool (guess I should start to think about what I plan to do with her for kindergarten work).  I know I am in the minority when I say that we are not taking the summer off from school.  While we will be stopping most subjects by the second week of June, my kids will continue on with their daily math lessons and daily reading throughout the summer whenever we are home.  Plus I will supply them with lots of nonfiction books on different science topics so they can learn while they keep up their reading skills.

I did this last summer mainly because I was afraid my kids wouldn't be up to par when they reentered the public school system.  In July David took an assessment test through the school he was entering to see where he was at academically.  After he took the test, I let him take the rest of the summer off from math (the whole month of August).  Mid-September he retook the exact same assessment test and scored 3 points lower on the math portion (the equivalent of half a school grade).  Six weeks off from doing math and his abilities dropped that much.  It was enough to convince me that I was right in not taking a three month break from the core subjects.  

We will definitely still have a lot of fun this summer.  We have big plans for fun already and I have a few surprises up my sleeve that I plan to pull out when the kids start to get restless.  I also have some great ideas for nature studies that we haven't had time for yet.  And some cloud gazing.  And a few sprinkler runs.  Some gardening.  Some mud pie making.  We shall see what fun we can come up with this summer.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

He Gives Me Everything I Need

The Lord is my Shepherd.  He gives me everything I need.

                        ~Psalm 23:1

We read this Psalm in our homeschool on Tuesday.  A conversation then followed between the kids and me.

"What does God say he will give us?"

"Everything we need."

"Everything we want?"

"No.  He gives us what we need."

"What do we need?"

"Food.  A place to live.  Clothes."

"Do we have everything we need?"


"What about if we had a tiny house, just enough food for each meal and only a few changes of clothes.  Did God still meet all our needs?"


"What about if we lost our home and had to live in a tent?"

A lot more thinking on their part.  In the end they agreed that even a tent qualified as a shelter.

"What about if we lived in a mud hut with only one bed for all of us, one chair, one outfit each, and just enough food to survive?  Is God still meeting our needs?"

This one required a bit more thinking on my kids' parts.  They agreed on the shelter and clothing part, but weren't so sure on the food part.  They finally agreed that yes, God was still supplying all our needs even then. 

It's a tricky thing, taking this verse to the extreme.  I was thinking about a blog I read last week over at Nesting Place.  A group of bloggers took a trip with Compassion International to Tanzania.  This particular blog talked about a 15 year old Tanzanian boy who lives in a mud hut with barely anything to call his own.  They didn't have any food until Compassion stepped in with a sponsor family.  Yet he is happy and says that he has everything he needs.

Then there's me.  I have a beautiful home.  More than enough food.  More than enough clothes.  Furniture, toys, medical care, the opportunity to home educate my children, the opportunity to stay home with my children unlike so many other mothers.

So why is it that this extremely poor 15 year old boy can be so happy and content with his life while I often struggle with wanting more?  I want a new cutting board because mine is getting old.  I want a new pair of jeans because mine are getting frayed.  I want a new lamp because mine tilts to the side and I have to fiddle with the light bulb to get it to turn on.  I want to sell this house that fits our family perfectly and move where we could have more land and live near other children so my children would have neighborhood friends.  

God has supplied every single need that I have in abundance.  

I believe the secret to happiness and contentment is gratefulness.  To daily thank God for his blessings.  When I first wake up in the morning before I get out of bed, I lay there and thank God for a new day.  Before I fall asleep at night, I lay in bed and thank God for all the ways that he blessed me throughout the day.  

Rather than dwell on my leaning lamp, I thank God that I have a lamp at all.  Rather than dwell on my jeans that are starting to show wear, I thank God that I have the means to replace my jeans when they finally give up the ghost.  Rather than dwell on what my house doesn't have, I thank God for providing us with a house at all, let alone such a nice house 4 doors down from my parents, 5 doors from my Grandma and 6 doors from my inlaws.  I thank God for providing awesome Grandparents for my children and that said Grandparents like to spend time with my kids.

No matter where I live, no matter if I have one hundred outfits or one, enough food to feed an army or only enough for one meal a day, God gives me everything I need and I need to be thankful for what he gives.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Garage Sale--Mission Complete

We had a garage sale this past weekend.  It was awesome.  First it sprinkled for about an hour and then the deluge showed up.  Right around 2:00pm the rain let up and the sun came out.  Nothing like a really good thunderstorm to help increase those garage sale profits!

I had my first garage sale last year mostly to get rid of all our old baby/toddler stuff that we no longer needed.  This year I debated about having a sale.  I didn't have a ton of stuff, but I did have a few BIG items--a loft bed, a spring rocking horse, a bike, a desk and a few other items that would have required renting a trailer or major disassembley work to haul to Goodwill myself.  Plus, the kids begged, yes begged, me to have a sale.  They wanted to sell their stuff to earn spending money for when we go to Disney World later this year.  My mom decided to bring her stuff over and joined in on my sale as well.

The bed that no longer lives in my house

I purged, I borrowed tables, I priced and set up.  Friday was a BEAUTIFUL day.  Absolutely gorgeous.  Too bad the sale was on Saturday.

Despite the nasty weather, I managed to sell every big item that I had.  I was beginning to make plans for turning the loft bed into a jungle gym (it had a slide that attached to it so it would be even more fun) when it was still sitting in my driveway at 2:30pm.  But at the eleventh hour, a truck pulled up, a guy jumped out and ran up to me asking if I would take less for the bed.  I didn't even hesitate as I said YES!  He threw it in his truck and drove away making me a very happy Lisa.

The night stand that no longer lives in my house

All in all, it was a successful day.  After the sale, I started looking around the two rooms that lost the most stuff--my sunroom (which was turned into the garage sale dumping room for the last month) and the basement playroom.  Both rooms seem so empty now--it's great!  I have big plans for the basement now that all the big toys, bed, and desk are out of there.

My sister asked me how I could have sold so much stuff.  Simple.  If someone asked to barter, I always said yes.  I was more interested in getting the stuff gone with as little effort on my part as possible than in making a lot of money.  In the end all that was left was enough to fit in 5 boxes that my mom dropped off at Goodwill when we were done.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Confessions From My Kitchen

Chef Linguine and Chef Ginguine

I was talking to my sister the other day about cooking.  She mentioned how she has always left it to her sisters-in-law or me to do the hosting of family parties because she wasn't up for cooking and hosting a big meal like that.  I thought it was pretty funny that she thinks I am Miss Hospitality.  If she only knew...

So when I got married, I could cook.  Sort of.  Okay, I knew how to make maybe a handful of dishes, none of which my new Husband liked (I was raised on casseroles and Hubby loathes them).  Hubby was/is a great cook.  His pie-in-the-sky dream is to open his own restaurant.  He's forever whipping up these gourmet dishes without consulting a recipe and it makes me jealous.

In my first year of marriage I have one memory that stands out above of all other memories.  I was trying to cook fish, something I'd never done before.  My dinner wasn't turning out.  The oven was finicky and the fish wasn't cooking right.  We were supposed to be somewhere and I was running out of time.  I was upset, frustrated, eventually irate.  I ended up so disgusted with the whole thing that I opened the back door and threw the fish out into the yard.

I used to be extremely self conscious about cooking for Hubby because he's so good at it and I'm just not.  I have to follow a recipe most of the time, I will probably never know what all the different spices in my spice rack are for, and I'm just not that creative.  I could eat the same ten dishes over and over and be completely happy with it. 

It wasn't until about three years into my marriage that I felt like I could maybe sort of cook okay.  I could at least cook well enough to feed my family.  Almost ten years into my marriage I haven't had a bomber meal in about two years, I cook about 90% from scratch, my kids eat my cooking usually without complaint, and Hubby rarely says that something is a dud, so I think I may have finally mastered this thing called cooking.

Baby Joy approves of this meal

Yet, whenever a friend has a baby and someone asks me to make a meal for them, I always say no.  I just won't do it.  If we have company over for dinner, I either make Hubby prepare the main dish or have to ask him for a lot of input.  I love hosting parties, but cooking a big meal for other people leaves me flustered.  I panic.  I worry that it won't turn out.  That no one will like it.  Watching me prepare for company is equivalent to watching a chicken running around with its head cut off.  I put on my happy face when the door bell rings, but up to that point it's chaos.

I'm hoping that with another ten years of experience,  I will feel so confident in my cooking that I'll be able to host a major holiday meal without breaking a sweat and will actually cook the entire dinner myself without asking Hubby for help or input.  Hey, a girl can dream, right?!

Training up a future chef

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Meijer Matchups: May 13-19

Meijer Ad Matchups: May 13-19, 2012

Thank you to Bargains to Bounty for providing highlights of the best Meijer deals for this week! She does her matchups using the metro Detroit Meijer ad, where coupons are doubled up to $0.50.
Visit Meijer’s site for the official coupon policy.
Meijer Matchups: GROCERY
25% off Ortega Products: Salsa 16 oz, Shells 4.8-5.8 oz, Mixes 1-3.75 oz, Kits 15.9-21.3 oz, Black Beans 15 oz, Rice Mix 10 oz or Black Beans w/Rice Mix 7 oz
$0.60 Ortega Black Beans or Taco Seasoning Envelope (reg $0.80)
-$0.50/2 Ortega coupon (from 4-15 SS)
$0.10 each when you buy 2 with coupon
$1.50 Shedd’s Country Crock Spread, 15 oz or 2 ct 7.5 oz tubs
-$1.00/1 Meijer mPerks digital coupon (limit 1 use)
-$1.00/1 Country Crock printable coupon

FREE after coupons
$0.79 Suave Naturals Shampoo or Conditioner, 15 oz
-$0.50/1 Suave Everlasting Sunshine printable coupon, if included in sale
FREE after coupon
20% Banana Boat and Hawaiian Tropic Sunscreen Products
-$1.00/1 Banana Boat coupon (from 4-22 or 5-13 SS)
-$1.00/1 Hawaiian Tropic coupon (from 4-22 or 5-13 SS or printable)
$0.59-9.39 after coupon
$3.29 Hormel Natural Choice Lunch Meat, 7-9 oz (reg price – may vary by location)
-$0.50/1 Meijer mPerks digital coupon (limit 1 use)
-$0.50/1 Natural Choice printable coupon

$1.79 after coupons
Visit Bargains to Bounty for the rest of the deals.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Having Compassion

The kids rescued baby birds they found on the ground

I made David cry today during our homeschooling.  Usually he cries out of frustration over his school work--if he gets a math problem wrong and can't figure out why.  If I ask him to write a paper and he can't figure out what to write about.

Today we were reading Henry's Box by Ellen Levine.  It's about a boy, Henry, who is a slave and is taken away from his parents and given to his master's son.  He grows up and marries, has children, only to have his children and wife sold away, too.   The reality of such a horrible practice is not foreign to me so I admit to reading that part without really thinking about how it might impact my kids.  But then I noticed David wiping the tears out of his eyes.  I realized that to David, this was absolutely tragic, horrible, heart rending news.

I know that David is my most compassionate child even if it doesn't look like it based on his outward behavior.  On the outside he is all boy, rough and tough and loud and always on the run.  On the inside, he feels things deeply.  He cried when we watched a movie where the couple found out they couldn't get pregnant.  He cried while watching The Muppet Movie when the Muppets found out they didn't raise enough money to save their theater.  I showed him pictures of my friend's house and neighborhood after a tornado ripped through and leveled some of the houses and he cried (I thought he would find the power of a tornado amazing--Oops).

I love his secret compassionate heart.  I love that a book or movie or picture can make him cry because he feels the pain of someone else.  I love that my girls are always bringing home some animal they found so we can take care of it.  I want my children to be compassionate.  To have their heart break over inhumanity, tragedy, suffering.  Because compassion leads to caring, which leads to action, which leads to change.  When we see an image of a city devastated by a tornado, compassion spurs us into action--to donate money, food, household items.  When we see a family in need of food, compassion spurs us into action--to feed them.  When we see a need, compassion spurs us into action--to fill the need.

Compassion leads to Action which leads to Change

The girls are all bandaged up and feeling much better

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Living (Mostly) Unplugged

I read this blog post on How to Miss a Childhood by Hands Free Mama and I think it is so important that I wanted to share it on my blog.

It irks me, truly irks me, when I am having a conversation with someone and they are texting/web surfing/checking their email on their phone (or computer) at the same time.  I want to yell at them to put their phone away and actually talk to me, but I don't because I am a (mostly) mature adult and adults just don't do that sort of thing.  If that is how I feel as a grown up, I can only imagine how it must feel to a little child.

I have a very low tech cell phone.  It lets me make calls.  I do not subscribe to a text plan.  I have no data plan.  My phone is not smart.  Hubby has tried to get me to start texting.  I flat out refuse.  I do not want to be a person who is attached to my phone.  I want to use it to make necessary calls and that's it.  I do not want to be a person who is overly attached to my computer (though I do admit that computer time is something that I have to consciously monitor).  I do not want to be a person who is attached to my TV and can't live without seeing my favorite show.  (I quit watching TV back in October and have not looked back)

While the phone, TV, and computer do not tempt me, I'm not perfect.  Far from it.  My vice is books.  I am a reader.  I love to read.  I would read all day long if I could get away with it.  Back during the horrible period of my life when I was mired down in untreated depression, I pretty much lived in my books.  I did what I needed to do to get by, but all my spare time was devoted to reading.  I knew it wasn't healthy and that I needed to make a change.  I had my nose stuck in a book instead of focusing on my kids, my house, my husband, my life.  So I stopped reading books for pleasure and limited myself to informational books only for a three month period.  While I will sit down and read a good novel cover-to-cover in one sitting, I just can't get into books on parenting, gardening, and simple living in quite the same way.  It would take me a week to finish a book like that read in tiny snatches.  I'm back to reading novels, but I now limit myself to reading during our afternoon quiet time and after the kids are in bed. 

The one thing I have learned is that...

Life does not happen on a screen or in a book.

Life happens when I put the phone down, turn off the computer, turn off the TV, and sit down to read a book to my kids.  When I step out my door and take a walk while we try to classify all the trees we encounter.  When I put down the book I am reading because Joy says, "Mommy, do you want to see me dance?"  I watch her even though her dances are always the same and my book is engaging.  I watch her because it makes her feel loved and it is important to her.

Life happens when I turn off the radio in my car so that I can talk to my kids and hear their nonsense stories and lame jokes.  Because intermixed in those things are the precious moments when my children tell me they love me.  That I am the best mom in the world.  That they are glad they are a part of our family.  I listen because one day my kids are going to have something important to say and I want to be ready.

Life happens when I sit on the sidelines of my kids' soccer games and cheer so loud that my throat hurts after every game.  When I watch David score his first goal in two years.  When I watch Lizzy block a shot.  When I watch Joy actually touch the ball period.  When all the other little 4-6 year olds on Joy's soccer team end up on my blanket when they're sitting on the sidelines because I'm the only parent who talks to them.  When I can tell my kids I am proud of them and mean it because I actually watched them play the entire game.

Life happens when I put the book/newspaper/magazine/phone/computer/eReader/whatever down at the breakfast table and instead focus on what my kids are saying.  When I really look at their smiling faces and laugh with them.

Life happens when I live unplugged.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Worth the Risk

In our homeschool, we are working our way through American history in a chronological order, learning about each new state in the order that it ratified the constitution.  As we've learned about each new state, I have noted which states remained in the Union and which states joined the Confederacy.  Last week we started learning about the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln, life on a plantation for both slave owners and slaves, the underground railroad, etc.

Of course such a topic can't be taken at face value with my kids.  Lizzy asked me, "Mom, what if we lived during the time of slavery?"  "Well, Lizzy.  It would depend on where we lived.  If we lived in the north, we would most likely be anti-slavery.  If we lived in the south, I can only hope that we would still be anti-slavery, but I don't know."  David said that if he lived back then, he would paint a big sign, bigger than our house, that said, "Slavery is wrong."  While I fully agreed with him, I felt it important to mention that such a statement would probably have led to him being murdered for his beliefs.

"People would kill you?!"

"David, you just finished reading a biography about Abraham Lincoln.  How did he die?"

"He was killed."

"Right.  He was assassinated by someone who didn't agree with his views on slavery, states rights, and other things.  Do you remember learning about Martin Luther King Jr.?  He also stood up and said racism is wrong, and someone who didn't agree with him assassinated him to shut him up.  Or what about Jesus?  He spoke out against the Pharisees, against sin, against the popular ideas of his time, knowing full well that He was going to be killed by people wanting to shut him up.  What if Jesus, Martin Luther King Jr., or Abraham Lincoln hadn't taken that risk?   What if they had decided that it was too dangerous, they were too afraid of being killed, so they just kept quiet?  We would still be stuck in our sin, in need of a Savior.  We would still live in a country that allowed slavery, in a country that still considered it acceptable to treat people of different races inhumanely.  If you see evil going on, if you believe in it strongly enough, if God calls you to take a stand against it, then you take that risk because nothing will ever change unless someone stands up and says 'This is wrong.'  One person can make the difference."

I don't know if my children will ever be called upon to be that person who takes the unpopular stand, but I pray that if they are called, they will be brave enough to risk it all.  And I pray that I will be the mother who can stand back and let them.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Making a Schedule

I've been thinking for a while that I needed to make up a schedule for our week days.  I have a morning routine that I follow pretty well.  But it's those "empty" times in the afternoon that are the problem.  You know, those times when there's nothing that needs to get done, no where to go, those times when your kids seem to be climbing the walls with energy and do nothing but nag with such questions as, Can we watch TV?  Can we play on the computer?  Can we have a snack (for the third time this afternoon)?  We're so bored, what can we do?  Can we....????

Sometimes Lizzy literally climbs the walls

Yesterday I decided it was time I came up with a plan to hopefully thwart the mid-afternoon/evening whines.

Mornings always consist of schoolwork.  After lunch all the children have a quiet time until 2:00pm where they are required to read for the first half hour and then can play after that.  David reads to himself and Lizzy reads books to Joy.

So my new routine starts after rest time.

2:00-3:00pm Outside time.  Unless the weather is really bad, all kids will be outside for at least an hour.
3:00pm Snack
3:15pm Chores
4:00pm Free time
5:00-6:30pm Help make/prepare/clean up after dinner.  Pick up the common areas.
6:30-7:15pm Free time
7:15-7:30pm Get ready for bed
7:30-8:18pm Read 1-2 chapters in latest book.  Bible time, write in prayer journals, prayer, and then bed.

David using his imagination while testing out our new safety goggles--he's pretending to snorkel

While I am a firm believer in giving children lots of unstructured time so they learn to use their imagination and be creative, it helps my children to have set times for things.  If I tell them to go outside, sometimes they will and other times they whine that they don't want to.  But when I have it written down right here that it is Outside Time, they go out and play without a fuss.

When I leave their entire afternoon open to free time, they struggle with not knowing what to do and naturally revert to begging for screen time until I am ready to throw said screens out the window.  It also has a tendency to lead to sibling fights.  It's still early days, but two days into the routine I can already see a difference.  Here's to hoping this does the trick and we can cut down on the whining and fighting.