Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Time to clean out the pantry and freezer!

I love to use the month of January as a time to clean out the pantry and freezer.  I find that random things build up over the year and doing this once a year is helpful in keeping things cleaned out a bit.  There are a couple of other added benefits to this method, one being that it is helpful to the budget after the holidays.  After the holidays it's also just nice to try to stay home, I like not running to the store and instead getting a bit creative with our meals.  I'm going to see how long we can go without going to the store, or at least how little we can spend this month.

This year I have a couple of extra challenges.  I'm nearing the end of my pregnancy and I'm on a high protein diet.  This takes priority and could gum up the works a bit, but I will need to do what is best for baby.  Hopefully I'll have plenty of energy and creativity for this challenge.  ;)

An added bonus will be that this should free up some finances for stocking up the freezer for baby's birth.  I'll likely use any of the savings this month to do some bulk cooking at the end of the month.

I'm going to try to post our meals for the week and how much we've spent that week as well.  My guess is that the first week will not call for much creativity or spending.  It'll be the following weeks that will be interesting.

Anyone want to join me in this challenge?  I'd love to hear from you.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Reading through the Bible in a year

Have you read through the WHOLE Bible?  For the past 6 years we've been reading through the Bible as a family.  We use a reading plan that takes us through the Bible Chronologically in a year.  It has been such a blessing to our family to get into God's word in this way.

So will My word be which goes forth from My mouth; It will not return to Me empty, without accomplishing what I desire, and without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it.  Isaiah 55:11

All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.
 2 Timothy 3:16-17

If this is not something you've ever done either on your own or as a family, or its been a while....I'd like to encourage you to do so.  It's really just scratching the surface, but being in God's word every day is a wonderful thing which leads to more growth and learning. Most importantly, it helps you know HIM more and draws you closer to Him.  It's a great habit to get into that can truly be life changing.

This will play out differently in every home, but I'll tell you how we do it to give you ideas and get you thinking.  Sometimes, as much as we want something to happen, the logistics get in the way.  For some getting up in the morning like we do just will not work, but evening readings will happen.  Find what works for you and make it a priority, this is just what happens to work for us....

Hubby gets all of our older children up every morning before work.  Right now that's at about 6am.  We gather together in the living room.  We start and end with prayer.  Everyone takes turns reading a few verses at a time.  Littles straggle in and join us as they wake up.   

If, for some reason, we miss a morning we often make up the reading time in the evening.  Sometimes we just know that it's going to be missed because of travel or unusual plans.  We plan for that either by doing extra reading in the days surrounding that time OR by listening in the car to the Bible on MP3.

This is our minimum.  As mentioned before, it's just scratching the surface.  It's not in depth study, but it is a great way to keep us in the Word and building this habit in the kids.  Other Bible reading and study happens individually or sometimes by topic as a family.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

A silent night

For the last two Christmases my "baby" has had this shirt that says "All Mommy wants is a Silent Night"  She is actually very quiet at she sneaks into my bed and cuddles up close.  Now that she sleeps better at night in her own bed, her little brother or sister is waking me at night.  Yes, my nights are silent....but, not because I'm sleeping through them.  The years are short, but the days nights are long. :)

Merry Christmas Mommies of many (or not so many)!  May you sleep through the night on Christmas Eve, or at least have the peace, strength and humor to savor the moments with the little one you are up with!

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Christmas School!

December is a crazy time of year, and it can make keeping up with homeschooling very difficult.  Or sometimes we focus on the schooling and get through the month only to realize we missed or skipped some special experiences.  About 10 years ago I read about one family's "Christmas School" where they shift their focus for school during the month of December.   We've been trying to do that for a while now.  What does that look like?  Well, it looks different every year, but generally.....

BOOKS- We have so many sweet and wonderful Christmas books that we love to read.  With all of the hustle and bustle it can be easy to just leave them on the shelf.  Most mornings I'm very intentional about reading at least one of these books.  As we get closer to Christmas We will devote more of our group school time to reading these books.  Most have historical or character value to them making them perfectly acceptable to use as "school."  We often make up a pot of tea to enjoy along with the books.  This also keeps Christmas break from becoming a "free for all" while providing a more relaxing atmosphere since most other formal schooling is set aside during this time.  While many are geared to the younger crowd, I've also been intentional about picking up some "older" books and books that go deeper.

BAKING-  In the week or so before Christmas we get quite a bit of baking done.  Older children choose their favorites; they let me know what needs to be added to the shopping list and do the baking/cooking.  Littles join me or their older siblings to help out.

GAMES-  We have so many games.  Card games, board games, tile games and other activity games.  With the weather so cold this is a great time to be intentional about pulling those games out in the afternoon (or any time that works).  Most games we own hold some educational value making this a great choice both for bonding and keeping up some school.

CRAFTS- The Christmas season seems to bring out the crafty side in many of us.  Kids are the same.  I love to see my children using this more relaxed time to get extra creative.  This year my 7 year old really took off decorating our downstairs with chains and other paper crafts she'd been exploring.  Just having simple items like construction paper, tape, glue, and scissors can go a long way for a kid.  Adding other crafting items is great too.  Then just let them take off!

TOYS- We put away many of the usual toys that are out and replace them with Christmas Toys.  These are mostly Nativity sets, but there are some other seasonal toys as well.  Puzzles, bells, dolls dressed in their Christmas best, and others help the little ones experience the season in a more hands on way.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

A simple Christmas

Ah, Christmas!  I love celebrating Christmas, or at least, in theory I do.  Too often the stress of gift buying (finances too), decorating,  traditions and the GO! GO! GO! of the season gets in the way of that and before I know it the season is over and we've not really focused on what is important to us.  For our family what is important is celebrating the birth, life, death and resurrection of our savior AND just enjoying each other.
Simple decorations in our guest room.  The tree was picked up at a garage sale for 50 cents, the sign was $5.50 at Hobby Lobby.  It doesn't "scream" Christmas in that room, but I think our guests will appreciate the effort. :)

We've really toned down the gift buying in the past few years.  We LOVE to give gifts, but we've been trying not to let it be the focus on the season.  Our kids do a gift exchange with each other and we stuff their stockings.  There are generally a few things under the tree; often group gifts like games or toys we know several kids will enjoy together.  I love that most of my extended family has also really toned down the gift buying.  Sure we enjoy sending packages to one another, but it's not the big thing it used to be.  This year I'll be sending out a few boxes, and I have some simple gifts for family that will be visiting.  Mostly we will be focusing on the experience.  The sights, sounds, smells, and tastes that tend to generate those warm feelings.  I'd rather spend my money on that new board game the kids have been wanting and their favorite meal/snacks that will help facilitate a sweet family evening together.  Or maybe that sled the kids were wanting for that great hill in our back yard?  Oh, the sweet memories and bonds that could help build.

I love that a couple of my boys have decided that getting the Christmas lights up is important to them.  They get out there every year now and decide where they should go and get it done.  As we decorate  inside I try to focus on the fun and enjoyment of pulling these decorations out instead of the goal of a "perfect" look.  My tree may not be the prettiest in town, but we sure do have fun decorating it!

In the past couple of years I've loved seeing what my kids find important.  What they want to help make happen for the season.  This year our 4 year old has been especially excited about gingerbread houses.  It seems that our fun together last year really stuck in his head.  Meanwhile my older kids have their list of holiday goodies they are perfectly willing to make so that they don't get forgotten.  This year our 7 year old (with her older sibling's encouragement) put together the gift exchange name drawing.  Slowly, as they are out running errands with me or daddy they are sneaking those gifts into the house.

One of my favorite things that we've been doing has been Advent; by reading a special book together in the evenings.  The book helps us focus on what we are celebrating and the great gift we have been given through our Savior Jesus Christ.  This year we will be pulling out Jotham's Journey, the first in a series of advent books for families.

We've also shifted the focus onto other days.  We celebrate Saint Nicholas Day with German and Polish foods, setting out the shoes to be filled with simple goodies, and studying some church history.  We love inviting friends and family to help us celebrate.  We've also been doing more for New Years.  I'm finding that these days have less expectations, pressure, and stress attached to them and so they are more enjoyable for everyone.

What about you?  Do you go all out with the gifts and decor?  Do you skip it all?  What is important to you in this season and what steps to do take to make that happen?

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Traveling with an infant and/or toddler

... specifically, flying with an infant or toddler.....

I've flown with 7 of my 8 children as infants, most of them many times.  Flying is not my favorite way to go.  I mean, trying to sit in a cramped space among 100+ strangers for a few hours is not fun as it is, throwing a infant or toddler into the mix just makes it worse.  I'd rather drive, but sometimes that is just not the best way to go.  There are some ways to make the trip more enjoyable and to help your little one enjoy themselves as well.

Here are some of my favorite tips-

1) SNACKS- The right snacks can make a huge difference in anyones day.  Packing simple, yummy snacks for your little one can not only fill their little bellies, but can also provide some great entertainment for them.  My kids love the Puff type snacks and the Yogurt Drops (even my 12 year old).  Several brands make them and some even have gluten free and/or dairy free versions.  If these are a rare treat for your child they may be very excited when you pull them out.  If you only put one or two out at a time there will be less mess and they tend to stay contentedly occupied longer.  These are my first choice for travel snacks for any littles able to eat finger foods.  Baby food pouches are also a big hit since you don't need a spoon, and can get some healthy food in your little one.  *Make sure you've introduced each of these before you offer them on the airplane.  You don't want to find that your child has an allergy up in the air, or is just a super messy pouch eater.

2)EXTRAS- You never know when you may be delayed in your travel plans.  I always pack twice as many diapers, wipes, snacks, and outfits as I think I'll need.  You just never know and running out of those things can really be a bummer.

3) GEAR-  The kind of gear you bring with you on the plane or even just into the airport can make a difference.  Sometimes I just check the car seat and/or stroller and wear baby.  Other times I check those things at the gate because they are so handy to have when I'm traveling by myself with multiple children.  It just depends on how long and complicated our travel day looks like it will be and what will be waiting for us at the other end.

4) ENTERTAINMENT-  A few simple, well chosen things like a toy, book, and blanket are really all you need especially if it's not supposed to be a very long day.  A favorite blanket can add security and comfort to your day, but also make a great game of peek-a-boo.  A couple of well liked toys that have been put away for a week or so generally do the trick, same with books.  While I'm not big on screen time; I do make sure I've got a couple of favorite shows loaded on my iPhone/iPad.  This can be the perfect solution for a little one who just thinks they are DONE with the travel day (and mommy and daddy are tired too).  My favorites are Signing Time and Barney.  While the big purple guy does not have a big following in our house, he has never failed to capture the attention of any of my children.  Signing time is a big favorite around here, it has really been helping in making communication connections.

5) THE DESTINATION- Think through your destination.   How long will you be there?  What are you doing there?  What will the weather be like?  Is it a child friendly destination?  Think through these things and pack accordingly.  If your host or hostess is asking about your child's needs and is offering to help; take them up on that help!  They likely understand how hard it can be to travel with a little one and would like to make life easier on you.

6)PREPARE- Along with the obvious preparations of packing the right things there are other ways to prepare.  Making sure your little one will be well rested for the trip is HUGE.  If baby is getting on the plane tired, stressed and edgy the trip is less likely to go well.  Take the time to think through what needs to be done before the trip and do that early.  Plan for some quiet days at home before taking off.  Talk to your little one about what is about to happen.  Simple statements like "We're going to visit the cousins at their house!" or "tomorrow we get to go fly on an airplane!" and showing pictures of the people and places you will visit help your little one understand what is about to happen.  Your calm excitement will (likely) transfer to your child.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Thanksgiving prep- making the day a restful one

I love Thanksgiving!  I love that it is a time to refocus on how very much we've been blessed.  I love that there really is so little commercialization of the holiday and no gifts to buy.  It's just a day to spend with friends and family counting our blessings and enjoying some great food and fellowship.  I like to make the day even more enjoyable by preparing in advance so there really is very little to do on the big day.
I made a set of finger puppets for the kids.  They will love playing with them quietly in church.  If only I'd finished them earlier in the month as planned. :) 

I thought I'd share some of the things I do to simplify the day, and then I thought to look at my archives to see if I'd already done that.  Sure enough I had, and not much has changed in the last 4 years or so.  Follow this link for my Thanksgiving Prep.

Seasonal paper plates/napkins and plastic utensils will be enjoyable (and simple) to use with all of our leftovers, making the week-end even easier.  

What do you do to make the day stress free (or less stressful)?  I'd love to hear your tips .

Monday, June 22, 2015

Stitch Fix for June - Taking Care of Mom

I'd been hearing about Stitch Fix for a while and was interested in trying it out.  Then I saw a friend of mine wearing a darling outfit; when I complemented her on it she mentioned using Stitch Fix.  I mentioned it to Rob and he thought it was a great idea.  That was early in May.  While we were in the process of buying a house and moving.  This month I got my belated Mother's Day gift in the form of my first "fix."

When it arrived Miss E was excited to find out what would be in the box too.  It was fun to open it up with her.  Just the experience of opening the box and seeing how pretty everything was was great.

Almost everything in the box appealed to me, and it all fit.  I had so much fun trying it all on.

I loved that the stylist listened to my input and requests, but also stretched me a bit.  You know that feeling when you get a gift that you LOVE but wouldn't have picked for yourself?  Yea, that was the feeling I had.

While I did like most of the items in my shipment I didn't LOVE them all.  I ended up keeping the 2 great tops and sending the other 3 items back.  Part of what makes this service so great is how easy it was to return what I didn't want.  I just tossed it into the (included and pre-labeled) envelope and put it in my mailbox!

This is a great service for anyone that would like help with their wardrobe or does not want to have to take time to shop for new pieces for their wardrobe.  I knew I wanted a couple more items but REALLY did not want to have to take the time to look for what I wanted either by going out or shopping on line.  This was the perfect solution for me.  No, it's not something I'll do all the time.  The items are not bargain prices, but I did like that I could give them a price range that I was comfortable with.

Next month it's my birthday.  I'm looking forward to another Stitch Fix as another fun gift.

I've included links to Stitch Fix in this post.  While this is not a sponsored post, I do get referral credit if you follow my links, sign up AND receive a "fix."  The opinions are my own that I would have posted anyways...the referral links are a bonus. ;)

Thursday, June 18, 2015

A new house....a gift from God.....

Those tiny house posts?  Sorry, God had other plans and I'll not be finishing that series....

When we moved back to Colorado we moved back into the house we purchased last time we lived here (we rented it out while we were gone).  It was the house we had purchased when we had four kids, and we were done having kids.  Ha! Ha!  Yea, 9 years and 4 MORE kids later it was a bit small.  We were praying, saving and waiting.  We really thought we would be waiting 3 more years in this house.  3 more years active duty Air Force.  3 more years to save so that we could afford the house we were wanting.  3 more years to pray for God's direction.  3 more years being content in the "too small house."
The old house

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.  In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will direct your paths.  Proverbs 3:5-6

By December we had gotten back in contact with our realtors.  We were interested in purchasing an investment property, but were not opposed to looking at houses for our family as well.  We looked at several houses, some in each category.  None were right, but the "family" houses we looked at really helped us figure out what we were and were NOT looking for when the time came to buy our "20 year house."   God was working in our hearts in so many ways through so many people and circumstances.   

Then I saw this house on zillow.  It looked great, but I didn't think the land was what Rob wanted.  A few days later he sent me a link to this house.  What did I think?  We looked at the pictures and talked.  There were a couple other homes that interested us as well.  We couldn't look at any of them for another week though.  Science Olympiad was happening in the next week.

We made plans to look at 4 houses.  3 one day and 1 the next.  The first house was nice, but both the house and land were NOT "ours."  We headed on over to that big blue house.  There was trouble getting the key out of the lock box.  We all went to look around the land while our realtors (whom we've known for 9 years) worked on that.  By the time I got back to the door they had already been in and came out saying "this is your house!"  Rob was nowhere in sight.  He was still looking around at the land....

I silently looked through the house.  It puzzled me.  WHO builds a house like this?  It looked like they only had 2 children, but the house was made for a LARGE family.  _I_ would have built this house.....but, what did Rob think?  I kept quiet knowing that he had to know I loved the house.  Sure enough he started asking about making offers etc.

Just to be sure we went on to the next house.  The land was nice, but the house was NOT for us and much farther out than we wanted to live.  The next day we had plans to look at 1 more house.  Most of the kids opted to stay home, they knew it wasn't ours. ;)  We were just going to make sure there were no "what ifs" in the back of our minds.

Those questions I had about WHO would build a house like this?  Yea, a family that adopted 11 children builds a house like this!  They lived here 20 years.  Those 2 littles still in the home?  The grandchildren. :)  This house was built for us long before we knew to start praying for it.  God is good!  There are so many big and small prayers that were answered through this house.  Prayers that were spoken and shared, silent prayers and even those that were just hidden away in my heart.  Some answered in the loud "THIS IS YOUR HOUSE" way, and others in the whispered "I care about even this" sort of way.
We MAY have been at the house for a whole 15 minutes before Mr. M got the lawn mower going.

When we got into the house even the "baby" Miss A seemed to know it was "home" even without any of our stuff in it.  We've been enjoying the space and great floor plan as we've been moving in this past month.

For those that are wondering... We can't know what God has planned in the future, but unless He says otherwise we do intend to settle here.  

Monday, May 4, 2015

Living Room- tiny house for a large family series

Last week I posted about our Entry.  The natural flow would be to move on to the living room, so we will.  This space was one I really had to think about.  We don't have a lot of wiggle room here, but it does work nicely for us.  As you enter the living room the bookshelves are on your left.  Our family loves to read, so these are very important.  I was strategic in the placement of the books though.  The "prettier" ones are out here.  These shelves also display some special pictures and items.  Each one has a special reason for being there.  There had been a keyboard in the middle there, but it was not getting much (if any) use so it is being stored in a closet.  My rocker/recliner gets a lot of use, we call it "the cuddle chair."

Can you see the bin on the lower left side?  It contains Baby playmobil toys.  This allows babies/toddlers easily access some toys in this room.

In the corner, we have a set of Waltzing Hammers (by my Dad, who passed away suddenly nearly 3 years ago).  The hammers give my kids a connection to their grandpa, and I just love having a piece of him here with us. The fireplace up here does not get used much for it's intended purpose.  We tend to store library books here, and there are cushions for extra seating.

This corner over here looks a bit cramped, but it has a purpose.  The little book shelf holds little kid books and toys.  The ottoman holds a queen size sheet that holds all of our legos on one side; the other side holds some sensory toys. The end table holds our projector in the lower compartment; the open compartment holds our current family reading books.  The ottoman is at this angled position partly because it just fits that way, but it also creates a play area for baby.  This corner is actually a playpen!  Until, of course, she learned to climb out. ;)

The sectional seems to be self explanatory, but I will say that we got it because we needed the extra seating.  We spend so much time in this room.  Together.  Usually reading.  This is an important piece of furniture for our family.  The coffee table is a chest that holds photo albums.  The back cubby holds some special books and pieces of art.  Out of sight in that corner is all of our extra pillows and cuddle blankets.  On the end we have the piano bench.  It gets used as an end table, or extra seating at the dining room table, OR even as a piano bench should we ever pull our keyboard out.

*Above the window we have a screen mounted.  It really takes up very little space but works out wonderfully for family movie nights.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Entry- tiny home for a large family series

I've done a couple of things with our entry to make it work for us.  It is tiny.  Imagine 10 people trying to get in and out in this small space....

Or trying to get coats, hats and mittens on right here.

Yea, that's just not gonna happen.  ;)

Here's what I've done....
We try to keep the area by the door clear.  There are a few things to note here though.  There is a small mirror, and under it we hang the keys.  On the other side of/behind the door is the "take me" bag.  This is where we are supposed to toss anything that needs to leave our home (within reasonable size), this would include returns to stores, items left here by friends, things we are loaning or returning to a get the idea.  We also hung some hooks that we use for "grown up" coats etc.  In the corner of the picture (going down the stairs) you can see our large wall map.... It is supposed to be used to mark the countries we're praying for from the Voice of the Martyrs calendar (we're having a hard time getting back into that habit).

Up the stairs from the entry (we have a split level) is the main coat closet.  This one is for the girls as well as Mommy and Daddy.  I'll start at the bottom and work my way up in explaining the set up.  First we have a "bench" with three cubes labeled with their content.  We left enough space on the sides for a couple of bags we knew would need to go there.  Behind the bench is where we place our Large Utility Totes and Deluxe Utility Totes when not in use.  On the bench you will usually find our church bags; these are kept packed and ready to go which can be helpful in the cases of a busy week or even an emergency.  Moving up...We have hooks for little kid hoodies/coats.  They can't reach the hangers, this makes it easier for them to find what they need.  The higher hooks on the side hold miscellaneous items.  The rod is for hanging coats; generally there are none here; this space is just for guests.  On the shelf we have some "on-the-go" supplies (to go tissues, wipes, bibs, lotion, hand sanitizer....) and the other bin for miscellaneous/out of season storage, the thermal is used for our water bottles when out and about.  You'll notice that we removed the folding/sliding doors that had been here.  We replaced them with a pretty shower curtain and rod.  It slides easily and hides the mess nicely.

Down the stairs from the entry is where you will find the boy's coat closet. It's not as pretty. The hooks are for coats/hoodies.  The shelf holds hats and gloves.  As you can see; I'm not using this space to its full potential, I need to do some more cleaning out and organizing.  I also need to use this space better.   Since this is our "under stair" storage space, it goes way back.  I store most of our holiday decor back here as well as some seasonal school stuff.

What makes this set up work for us?  Only half of us are getting ready to go in each area so we're not as crowded as if I had everyone keep their coats etc in one spot.  Everything we generally need for "on the go" is kept in these areas making it easy to find what we need quickly as we're headed out.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Tiny home for a large family!

We moved last summer.  Back into the house we bought 8 years ago when we had 4 kids. I knew going into this home that it was a bit smaller than our last home, but it is working well for us.  Then I started doing some research.  Have you heard of Tiny Homes?  While our home is not what you would think of as a "tiny home" when you look at our square footage per fits into that category. :)

I'm preparing a series of posts about how I've organized our home.  I thought I'd share some information I found when looking up the average square footage of a home these days.

The average new home is about 2,600 square feet.  The average household consists of 2.54 people.  The average square footage per person is 980.7

Our home is 1,800 square feet.  We have 10 people in our family. We have about 180 square feet per person.  Hmm...

While it does take some thought and planning, and we do have to be careful about how much we bring into our home; it works for us.  We are happy in this home.  It keeps us together as a family, and makes us think about how we want to use our space.  We spend less time cleaning, because there is less to clean.  In the coming weeks I hope to show you, room by room, how I make this house work for us.  Hopefully it will be an encouragement to you and help spark some ideas of your own for your home.

*While we ARE happy in this house and are making it work; we do intend to purchase a larger house some time in the next few years; God willing.  We are saving, living out our last years as an active duty military family, finding joy and contentment in the home we've been blessed with, and waiting on God's direction before that happens.

Monday, April 13, 2015

I'm back! Spring cleaning and gardening!

Spring cleaning and gardening is what we are up to these days, and we're loving it.  It's been quite a while since I've blogged here.  Moving a large family takes a lot out of a mama and some things have to go.  Taking a break from this blog was one of those things.  Hopefully I'm back for a while.  If you want to see what the family has been up to you can check out my family blog Gabe's Babes.

Now that we're well settled and have been in the house for about a year the house is needing a good cleaning and some re-organizing.  As we go I'm planning to take some pictures and give you a tour of our little house.  My goal in that is to encourage you to use the space you have to it's full potential and to get your creative (and maybe cleaning out?) juices flowing.  Large families do not need HUGE houses; just some creativity and contentment.

We're all enjoying working in the yard/garden.  While we'd love to have more land some day we're very thankful that God has blessed us with a good sized yard in town.  We're learning and trying to make best use of the space we've been given.  Maybe we'll even get to eat some fruits of our labors?
The first signs on new spring growth in my containers!  Spring (or the last danger of frost) happens late in Colorado.