Friday, January 31, 2014

Fun With Homeschool MAPS - China!

We had great fun with our map of England, and I couldn't wait to continue the fun with China! Here are some pictures of the map of China that we worked on this week.

It's not complete, and we are adding things as we go - but this is beginning!

One rather embarrassing thing about home education is that it is revealing to me how bad my own education was! Seriously, people - I had no idea that Taiwan was an island. Or that Hong Kong was on mainland China. Or that China bordered both Korea and Vietnam (plus about fifteen other countries!). Absolutely no idea whatsoever.

The awesome part of that is, of course, that I get to remedy the glaring defects in my own education while I learn alongside my children. A definite win-win situation!

We're enjoying this journey through the world very much - there is so much to learn, and it's so much fun! Who knew that school could be so awesome?

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

In Which "The Whining Puker" Receives a New Name! Introducing....

Hello, dear readers!

Today is the day... and I'm so excited to share it with you!

This month, my blog turns SIX years old - can you believe it? It seems like I was just a new mommy with a toddler, wondering if I could just possibly have my own blog. Roughly 775 posts later, here we are! Still blogging, and loving it - and hoping to continue for the long haul.

It's been an incredible journey.

When I began this blog, I was struggling to recover from the hardest experience of my life to date - full-blown hyperemesis gravidarum during the pregnancy of our first live-born son.

To say that hyperemesis rocked my world would be an understatement, and it's hard to describe to anyone who hasn't been there. It took my health, it took my faith, and it destroyed the foundations of my worldview, my personhood, and pretty much everything else. It rocked my universe.

It took me many years to recover physically (recovery came in stages), and six years to recover spiritually. It has been a long road.

Today, I can look back at my experience, and say, as a fellow HG-friend did (though I didn't understand at the time), "I needed this." Oddly enough, it's true. God had a lot to teach me, and he really had to shake me up to do it. I didn't know how immature I was (though I see it looking back), and how much my infant faith was based on false assumptions and a whole lotta arrogance. God had so much work to do on me, and I learned some lessons the hard way. "He is not a tame Lion."

Not that I want to go through it again. No one ever does. If I were back in my pre-HG self, I have no doubt that I would choose to stay immature rather than go through that nightmare again. But God did not leave that choice up to me, and I am profoundly grateful for that mercy.

This blog began with a dual purpose (though I didn't know it) - to publish the research I was doing into hyperemesis treatment, and to deal with the spiritual fallout in my faith after hyperemesis. Like many traumatic experiences (such as abusive birth trauma situations), it took a while for me to feel the true effect of the blow, and at 20 months postpartum I was just starting to feel the full spiritual ramifications of my experience.

This blog has been highly instrumental in helping me to process my feelings, receive godly input and encouragement from readers, and also organize a huge body of research into NVP and hyperemesis. I hope and pray that this blog has been a blessing to the many of HG mamas who have happened upon it, and I have enjoyed the privilege of corresponding with many of them.

Thank you for all of your love, support, and encouragement, dear readers!

Over the past year or two, I have sensed a shift in the content of this blog. While I am still vitally interested in hyperemesis research, I am also now interested in many other things - faith, family, theology, home education, and writing about life in general. While morning sickness is still a theme, it's no longer the major theme.

Thus, it's time for this blog to be reborn.

Firstly, I have gathered together my (updated and pared down) hyperemesis links, and put them to the LEFT in my blog format. I want the information always to be available to HG mamas who are searching for help. (And I'll still be blogging occationally about HG!) I've also updated my other non-HG link lists and sidebar material (now confined to the RIGHT of my blog), and have added lots of juicy new items, such as the ability to subscribe to posts by email and lots of book lists. (Have I mentioned that I have an addiction to book lists?)

Secondly, it's time for... a blog name change!

As I mentioned previously, the new name of my blog came to mind instantaneously upon the heels of the idea itself. "Should I change my blog name? Yes, and the new name is such-and-such." After getting my husband's enthusiastic approval, I'm excited to finally share the new name with you, and it is....

(Drumroll, please!)

 ~ Trust and Obey ~

And the audience goes wild!

This blog name is, of course, based on a hymn:

When we walk with the Lord in the light of His Word,
What a glory He sheds on our way!
While we do His good will, He abides with us still,
And with all who will trust and obey.


Trust and obey, for there’s no other way
To be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.

(Full lyrics and hymn history here.)

Why did I choose this name? (Except for the fact, of course, that I didn't choose this name - it apparently chose me, or rather, the Lord chose it for me.)

This name reflects the greatest challenge of my life. It's not a sermon that I'm preaching to my audience, but rather, a hard life lesson that the Lord is teaching me, and one that I'm apparently slow at learning. I have an incredibly hard time trusting God for the long haul, and an even harder time obeying the Lord when I know that something is right to do (or has been asked of me), but am afraid of the outcome (in other words, afraid to trust God for a good long-term outcome).

A quick example:

Several years ago, after we had decided to homeschool our children, I quit. In fact, I quit before we ever started. I threw up my hands, declared my rebellion to my husband and my family, and started madly touring elementary schools. "I don't know what I was thinking, but there is NO WAY I am going to homeschool, and I'm DONE. Period."

This was in spite of the fact that I had felt a clear leading from the Lord in my heart, and heard the spoken wishes of my husband, toward home education. None of that mattered. I wanted my clean house back. I wanted my free time back. I wanted MY life back. I was the one who knew what was best, and by golly, no one was gonna tell me otherwise!

Thankfully, the Lord kept knocking, quietly and persistently, on my heart. I fought it for a year or two, but eventually I gave in - with very bad grace, I might add.

"Okay, you want me to homeschool. FINE. It's going to be a flop, and I'm going to be miserable, and it'll be all your fault. But have it YOUR way."

Of course, now that we are three years in, I laugh at myself - because home education has been the best decision our family ever made. It has poured out blessing upon blessing upon both us and our children, not to mention being the greatest adventure of our lives, and we wouldn't have it other way. And I could have saved myself a whole lot of heartache and frustration (not to mention time and money) if I had just obeyed God and trusted that he knew what he was doing, and that everything would come out okay.

But I had to learn the hard way.

That was also the case in another life-issue recently. I knew what the Lord expected, but that didn't change the fact that I didn't want to obey. And furthermore, I was afraid to obey. "God, if I obey you in such-and-such, You don't realize what might happen!" The time from my understanding the Lord's will to breaking down and saying, "Okay, I'll do it" was approximately six years. And again, obedience has resulted in blessing upon blessing, both spiritual and physical. I wish I'd just obeyed right away.

But I'm apparently a slow learner, and I have the feeling that I will have this challenge for many years, if not my whole life. Stepping out in trust and obedience is not my strong point.

And thus, my badge, my reminder, is "Trust and Obey." Because, truly, there is no other way to be happy in Jesus. And that is my life's journey-challenge.

In looking over the early entries of this blog (which I've been doing a lot of late, as I write a new series based on events that happened in the second year of this blog), I am struck by one thing - how far I've come in six years. Sometimes I cringe as I read those old entries, realizing how immature I was, how pathetic and shallow my theology was, and how young I was. Though I have hardly realized it, God has brought me a long way. And should my journey on earth be prolonged another decade (or two or three or four), I know that I will be able to say the same thing at the end of each of those. God is faithful. He is always working on me, on my husband, on our family - for our good and His glory. He may not be a tame Lion, but He is Good. And we can trust and obey with full confidence in His love and His mercy.

"It is of the LORD's mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not. They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness."

What will be covered in this blog's new direction? Lots and lots!
  • Home education: Curriculum reviews, crafts, country studies, our adventures, everything we're learning (and that I'm learning as a new home educator)
  • Homemaking: No matter how much I learn, there's an enormous body of material still to learn. I love to share what I'm learning!
  • Our Family's Adventures - Everything under the sun! 
  • Various: Theology, practical things, Christian womanhood, ramblings on every topic under the sun.
I'm not able to make any guarantees with this blog. Sometimes, like now, I am able to be very productive and to put out content regularly. Sometimes, like when there's a new baby around, I have to make myself scarce. However, writing is my passion, and I hope to be around as often as possible, and I love to write whenever I can (it's often more a matter of limiting my writing time!). 

I very much hope you'll join me for the journey. 

Thank you for all of the support over the years, dear friends! Your encouragement and support has meant the world, and I look forward to sharing new adventures with you! 

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Celebrating Six Years of the Whining Puker!

I am getting very close to implementing all of the formatting changes - and new name! - for my blog, and thus, I wanted to host a party - celebrating six years of "The Whining Puker."

It's been an awesome six years!

This blog has covered so much of my life - most of my adult life, in fact.

Where has the time gone?

I started out wanting a safe place to process my experience with hyperemesis.

From there, I started publishing my research into NVP (nausea and vomiting of pregnancy) - oodles and oodles of it (most of which did absolutely no good). 

I blogged through our post-HG pregnancy, and the birth of our second live-born son

I blogged again through our next pregnancy and the birth of our third live-born son.

This blog has chronicled most of the first decade of our marriage, our first home, and this year's unemployment journey - not to mention countless other physical and spiritual journeys, changes, and transformations. 

And the whole time, as a hyperemesis blogger, I have been looking for answers. And while I have wasted a lot of time running down fruitless rabbit-holes, I believe I have found several things that truly help HG (look here and here). Direct personal experience has yet to bear these out, but I am working like a mad woman on these projects. Though this blog has widened its aspect, hyperemesis research and activism will always be a passion and will remain a theme of this blog.

And even going beyond hyperemesis research, this blog has been my hobby, my spare-time-consumer, my passion - for six wonderful years. It has gone from "I need to tell my story" to "I just love to write!"

My outlet, and my passion, is writing. This blog has been a wonderful outlet to experience the blessings of writing and of connecting with other minds through my writing, and I'm thrilled to see my blog's coming rebirth under a new title. 

And with that, we bid "The Whining Puker" farewell! 

It's been a great six years. 

Thank you, dear readers, for sharing this time with me. 

Monday, January 27, 2014

Feeding My Addictions

I have a serious addiction to books. And another to compulsive list-making.

(I also have an addiction to plastic storage boxes, but that particular addiction doesn't come into this story.)

And so, I ask you, what do you get when you combine addictions to books and list-making?

You get an addiction to making book-lists, of course!

And so, when I implement some coming blog changes, one thing that I want to include is a recommended book list - or rather, several!

Topics that I have in mind include:
  • Homemaking
  • Parenting and Family
  • Marriage and Christian Womanhood
  • Home Education
Unfortunately, many books cover material that overlaps between various categories - and thus I'm having a hard time making hard and fast categories. 

However, that will be another fun project! Look for lots of yummy book lists, coming soon!


Tomorrow I will be posting the last blog post for "The Whining Puker." (*Sniff, sob, sniff*)

And on Wednesday, I will be posting the first blog entry for....

Just wait and see!

To be continued....

Coming soon to the Phoenix Valley... Palo Verde blossoms! 

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Cooking Through CHINA - Almond Cookies! (And More!)

When I was in elementary school, we studied China - and ended the unit with a "China party." I remember only two things about our study of China back in fifth grade - the fact that the ancient Chinese had boats called junks (or some such term), and the wonderful taste of the almond cookies that my mom and I bought for me to take to the party. They may have been store-bought, but boy, were they good!

Thus, in our ongoing study of China, I was thrilled to see the recipe for almond cookies come up in our recipe list! Bring 'em on!

These were easy to make, and absolute heaven to eat. And the dough was, if possible, even more delicious than the cookies themselves - I think the kids ate at least a third of the dough before it ever hit the oven.

Some people actually use these as Christmas cookies (like this beautiful and delicious-looking recipe here), and I think that's a great idea! I think I may have found next year's neighbor-gift cookies!!

Give these a try - even if you're not studying China!

(These rated a 5.0 out of 5.0 on our family's recipe rating system, bringing it into a tie for first place with Panda Express Orange Chicken in our "Cooking through CHINA" adventures.)

 ~ Chinese Almond Cookies ~ 

We used this recipe from Taste of Home.

No modifications - this recipe is perfect as-is!

(I did choose to squash them with a wet glass instead of a fork - just a personal preference on appearance.)

Before baking (the 7yo did the cookie-squishing and almond-sprinkling):

After baking (I overdid them just a wee bit):

And (part of) my kitchen, afterward! What a mess!

Last night I really overdid things - two cooking projects, a craft, and a science experiment. Let's say that we were playing catch-up for this week! All in all, the dishes took till after 11:00 p.m., and I was exhausted. Next week I'm doing a better job of spreading our extras out in a more even fashion!

Here are just a couple of the other things that went on here last night:

Pork Fried Rice (Scored 4.8 out of 5.0 on our family rating system) - this is an awesome dish for a quick, economical, everybody-likes-it family meal!

Homemade Paper: Yes, really - it's not raw hamburger. Try this tutorial (I can't find the one we used, but this is similar). We, like that blogger, used kitchen oil screens for forms instead of going to the insanity of making homemade forms from window screen and frames from the hardware store. (If you've got that kind of talent, my hat is off to you. Seriously.)

And... our science experiment for the week, Newton's Bottle. Having DH and DS do their science activity together every week has been a huge success, and we plan to continue this.

Why yes, those ARE our Christmas decorations in the background, still waiting to be put away.
Why do you ask? 

Have a wonderful night and a great Sabbath, everyone!

Friday, January 24, 2014

Awesome Books Our Family Is Reading!

While I'm in the middle of all of my fun projects, I thought I'd take a quick minute to share what our family is reading!

Books I'm Reading!

"The New Answers Book 2" - Having just finished Book 1, I'm now on to Book 2 - and like the first book, the second is awesome! I am slowly working through a large body of creation/evolution literature, and am enjoying my survey very much. (I am focusing on creationist literature at the moment, having spent the first 30 years of my life immersed in evolutionist literature. It's now time to balance out the spectrum!)

"You Can Buy Happiness (and It's Cheap)" - Have I ever mentioned that one of my hobbies is reading books on simple living? Oddly enough, it's a habit that stresses me out - but I still do it, and enjoy it! (While I'm stressing.) Some time I'll publish a list of my favorites, and this one will be on it! This awesome book chronicles the journey of one woman who simplified her life - going, with her husband, from a two-high-income, long-commute, high-stress, lots-of-debt lifestyle to a debt-free, tiny-house, radically simplified life. While some of her suggestions have limited applications for growing families (especially growing homeschooling families), it's always wonderful to immerse myself in the simple-living atmosphere and learn as much as I can. Love it.

"The Paleo Solution" - The very-low-carb diet that I'm doing is basically a variant on the Paleo-Primal spectrum, and I have enjoyed reading all that I can on this subject (especially at my favorite health blog, Mark's Daily Apple). Though I haven't gotten into Robb Wolf's things before, I am thoroughly enjoying his book - lots of great information, and I love his approach. I'm also finally getting a handle on the sleep issue - why and how sleep (both quality and quantity) affects our health. Highly recommended (with some cautions for language).

"The Fellowship of the Ring" - Time for an old favorite! I'm not a huge LOTR fan, but I always enjoy the first selection. This book has gotten slightly shoved aside while I'm enjoying all of these other new picks, but I'm going to get back to it in a week or two.

"Large Family Logistics" - Before I left Facebook, I joined a wonderful group that was collectively reading a chapter of this book per week, and then engaging in encouraging discussions about how to implement this author's great ideas. This is a favorite of mine, and I was really enjoying re-reading it - thus, I'm sticking with the schedule, even though the Facebook group is no longer available to me.

"Laura Ingalls Wilder: Real-Life Pioneer of the Little House Books" - On a whim, I checked out a couple of biographical works on Laura Ingalls Wilder, in hopes that I could catch some details not covered in the books. While I'm only starting this one, I'm finding it very interesting! For example, did you know that Laura had a baby brother, who died at the age of nine months? Wow! I'd never heard that! Apparently there were some times that were so tough for the Ingalls family that Laura completely left them out of her book. This will be a fun read.

Books DH Is Reading!

"Faith of Our Fathers: A Commentary on the Westminster Confession of Faith" - This is his newest reading project, and he's already loving it.

"Life of John Knox" - I have to admit it; I tried to read this book and eventually gave up. But it is DH's favorite, and he's now re-reading it. And if it weren't for our last name, I know one of sons would be named "John Knox"!

"A Weed in the Church: How a Culture of Age Segregation Is Destroying the Younger Generation, Fragmenting the Family, and Harming the Church" - Having met the author last weekend, DH is now enthusiastically reading one of my all-time favorite books. If you have time to spare for a new reading project, this is the one to choose. Love this book.

"Spurgeon: A New Biography" - DH and I read through this one at the same time (I'm finished; DH is still finishing up), and it is absolutely awesome. What an amazing man! Thoroughly recommended.

Books We're Reading in Homeschool!

"Eating the Plates: A Pilgrim Book of Food and Manners" - This book is so much fun! It is a thorough elementary-appropriate discussion of all things food-related (hunting, manners, food preparation, diet, etc.) with the Pilgrim settlers. We are learning so much, and it's so much fun! We read a bit each day.

"To the Top: Climbing the World's Highest Mountain" - Our 7yo's current favorite - the tale of how Mt. Everest was first conquered in 1953. What a story!

"Barry: The Bravest Saint Bernard" - Another favorite of our 7yo - the true story of the brave St. Bernard who worked as a rescue dog at a Swiss monastery in the last century. Wonderful boy-type adventure material here.

"Sugar Creek Gang #3: The Winter Rescue" - Our "fun" reading! Our 7yo received a set of six of the Sugar Creek Gang books for Christmas, and we're now starting #3. He is greatly enjoying them, as am I. I'm definitely learning a lot as I venture into the world of books for BOYS!

And there you have it, folks! This is what our family is reading at the moment. 

How about you? Got any great titles to recommend? Let me know about them!

(Some of you may be wondering, "If you're doing a unit study on China, where are all of the books on China?" Good question. Firstly, we included books on Mt. Everest in our study on China, as it's in a neighboring country [and Nepal won't be covered independently in our country studies]. But our books on China are so numerous that I simply haven't included them here. You'll have to wait till I publish our literature list for China to see those!)

Have a great night, everyone!

(P.S. Look for my new blog name - and new look! - sometime within the next few days!)

Love to all!

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Please Excuse the Delay!

Hello, friends!

Whenever my husband gives me a time estimate on how long a computer job will take, I multiply it by six and add an hour for a more reasonable expected time.

Apparently I should have done the same for myself!

Two of the blog projects that I have undertaken are taking significantly more time than I expected (I should have expected that!) - namely...

(1) Renaming my blog

I know, I know. What's to do? Just change the name! But first.... I'd better do a bit of updating my sidebars. Oh, crud - they're horribly outdated, and most of the links are dead! And the formatting isn't working anyway! I need a new format! And while I'm at it, I think I need a new background! And some new functionality! And a new color scheme, with some photos!

In other words, it's going to take a while.

And also, it's taking much longer than expected to write...

(2) My new series on "Inside the American Medical System."

I'm not even halfway through writing the first draft, and it's already expanded from five to nine installments - and going strong. I had no idea that I had so much to say!

All that to say...

Please have patience. It may take me a bit to get these two projects finished, so I may be scarce while I'm working in the background on getting these two projects ready to publish. I'm also trying to keep my blog work down to 20 minutes per day - always hard, but I am determined not to neglect my real duties for the fun stuff.

Speaking of which, I'm over time right now.

Thank you for your patience, dear friends!! I'll be back!

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Under Construction!

Hello, dear friends!

Just a note to let you know that this blog will be undergoing constant tiny changes for the next couple of weeks as I prepare for.... changing my blog name! I'm doing my best to clean up my link lists, remove and add sidebar content, and work with some layout changes. Nothing major, but things will probably look a wee bit different every time you stop by.

Thanks for your patience! I'm really excited about this project!

A Day on the Town for DH

This past week, DH had the wonderful experience of attending a local family-integrated-church conference with a friend.

He had a GREAT time!

After Day #1 of the conference, DH came home bubbling with excitement over all he had heard and learned. We ended up staying up till midnight so that he could go over all of his session notes with me and tell me about everything that he had experienced. He came home encouraged, excited, and motivated to make even more efforts in many areas of our family life.

Next year we are planning to attend again - as a family! DH doesn't want me to miss out on this much awesomeness, so we're going to do our best to take the whole crew if we're able to do so.

Local friends, we'd like to invite you to join us next year - whether it's just the husband, the husband and wife, or the whole family. It is an incredible resource that is available for free, and I know so many families and churches will benefit greatly from this awesome event. If you're interested, message me for more information!

We'll see you there next year!

DH with Scott Brown, author of one of my favorite books - "A Weed in the Church" -

DH with Kevin Swanson, author of "Apostate" (among many others):

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Coming This Month...

Having just finished up my quick series on "What's Changed In Our Homeschool This Year!" (I feel so accomplished!), I thought I'd let you know what to expect from this blog in the next month or two!

Here are a couple of plans that I have for the next few weeks:

Believe it or not, I'm working on another series - a longer series titled "Inside the American Medical System," documenting our journey through the web of Western medical specialists with our baby who has special needs. I'll be sharing our story, my conclusions from the experience, and a couple of tips we learned along the way. It should be a lot of fun!

This series is already under construction, and I'm waiting until I'm almost finished to start publishing installments so that I don't have to go back and make constant tiny changes to already-published posts.

In the meantime, I'll be sharing lots of little posts about family and homeschooling - all of the usual crafts, recipes, and family pictures. I often fall behind with these, but I hope to post at least a few.

Another much-needed project that I hope to work on is... a series of posts catching up with my "blog-post idea list." Today I flipped through my blogging notebook and discovered, to my dismay, that I have pages of blog-post ideas that were left behind in favor of newer ideas that popped up. I could just toss them, but the idea of that bugs me - and thus, I am hoping to dive in and do the hard work to finish working through those lists. If you see unusual posts concerning things that I did several years ago, you'll know why.

And finally - if I can manage to get up the courage - I hope to get around to changing my blog name. I've had this in mind for at least a year or two, but I think (hope) that the time has finally come to follow through with this. I love my original name, and it will be a sorrowful parting, but it is unfortunately too narrow a title for this blog now. Although I am still passionate about severe morning sickness (hyperemesis) research and activism, this blog now covers a wide variety of topics, and the title needs to reflect that.

I actually already know the new blog name to which I will be switching, though my web address will stay the same. (The web address using my new blog title is taken - one can duplicate titles, but not web addresses). As a matter of fact, the new name came to me hard on the heels of the idea of switching names. "Hmm. Maybe I should change my blog name. Oh yes, and the new name will be such-and-such." It was that fast. I hope you all like it!

Speaking of which.... any guesses? Leave your guesses in the comments section, and let's see if anyone comes close to predicting the new title!

I may also get around to posting about my adventures in leaving Facebook, but that may have to wait a month or two so that I can properly process the sense of shock I'm still feeling! (But it's a good thing, people.)

And that, dear friends, is what you can expect over the next month or two! I can't wait to share with you!

Have a lovely night!

Friday, January 17, 2014

What's Changed In Our Homschool This Year! (Part 3 of 3)

Part 1 recorded the fact that we are - for now! - finished with phonics!

Part 2 we said goodbye.... to nature (formal) walks.

In our final Part 3, we are saying goodbye one more time... to Bible verse memorization.

Before y'all come unglued - and I have to admit, that does look pretty awful! - let me quickly say that we have removed Bible verse memorization in order to replace it with Bible passage memorization. We're still memorizing God's Word, and always will be. We've just changed our methods.

We started last year with the "one verse per week" method. But finding the verse was something that I always left till the last second, and I often ended up flipping randomly through the Bible to find something on the spur of that last-second moment.

In a moment of desperation, I turned over the "find a Bible verse for us to memorize!" task to DH. He never remembered either. In fact, at this point, I'm not sure he remembers that I even asked him to do that job for me! Back to square one.

Enter Cindy at Get Along Home, who mentioned last year that she was switching over to having her children memorize larger portions of Scripture, rather than just isolated versions.
"I don’t have my children do just a verse or two at a time. The danger of that popular but shallow method is the loss of context... It is far too easy to turn the Bible into a New Age self-help book by memorizing passages if we ignore who wrote them, and to whom, and why. In order to solve this problem, I’ve been teaching my children entire passages this year, rather than single scriptures."
Read the whole article here.

I pondered that for several months. It sounded pretty good. Firstly, it removed the task of weekly frantic-verse-searches from my to-do list. Secondly,  as many of us know, the out-of-context use of Bible verses has been one of the top producers of bad doctrine in the church during the past hundred years or so. (It's really been for the entire history of the church, but it's come out especially during the past 100-200 years as biblical illiteracy has grown within the Christian church.) There's nothing like an out-of-context Bible verse for producing false doctrines, and I want to fight against that trend by teaching our children to study Bible verses in light of the entire counsel of Scripture. What better way to do so than by memorizing whole passages of Scripture to place verses in context?

Thus, last term I began with the new method, using Psalm 23 as a starting point. We have memorized one verse per week (sometimes half a verse per week), adding each verse onto the others, until now we are within one verse of having the entire Psalm memorized.

This has the added benefit of working on memory skills for our students, and I'm thrilled to see our 7yo make great strides in being able to memorize a larger piece of literature than just the single verses we were previously doing!

This method also gives us the added benefit of being able to discuss Bible passages in depth and at length. With the verse-a-week method, there was usually just a quick explanation and then a "repeat after me." With the larger-passage method, we have been discussing all of the topics covered in our chosen passage - for two months! The 7yo has a much deeper understanding of Psalm 23 than he did of any of the Bible verses that we memorized previously.

File that in the file of things that work - hurray! This has been a huge improvement, and is definitely a keeper.

I love making discoveries that greatly simplify and improve our home and our educational program, and this is one of them.


Now if I could only figure out a similar solution to chore charts!

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Cooking Through CHINA - Almond Floats!

I made this classic Chinese dessert for one reason - it was easy. But to our surprise, it was also really good! This has been one of our top-scoring entries as we cook our way through China (as part of our unit study on China).

The gelatin mixture - gelatin, water, milk, sugar, almond flavoring.

Cubed gelatin mixture with canned (or sugared fresh) fruit. We used canned peaches - canned pears or fruit cocktail would also be great. 

The recipe:

~ Almond Floats ~

We used the recipe for Almond Floats from the book 
"Cooking the Chinese Way," p. 56. 

A very similar recipe can be found here

My one complaint was that the recipe was much too sweet, and the recipe linked above has only half the sugar of our recipe, which I think would be preferable. On the other hand, our recipe used only milk, rather than evaporated milk plus water, which I always find to be better (and easier, and cheaper). I would probably combine the two recipes to get the best of both worlds.

These were a huge hit! We highly recommend trying these!

~ Enjoy! ~

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

What's Changed In Our Homeschool This Year! (Part 2 of 3)

Yes, that's right - I'm actually finishing a series that I started. Be still, my heart!

Part 1 recorded the fact that we are - for now! - done with phonics!

In Part 2, we are also saying goodbye.... to nature walks.

Goodbye, Nature Walks!

Okay, that sounded terrible. Who wants to say goodbye to nature walks? (Other than me, because I'm a terrible mother.)

I'd better explain.

The Charlotte Mason style of education (read more here) places great emphasis on getting kids outside. The gold standard for a classical Charlotte Mason education is four hours of outside time per day. While we don't usually make it to that level (though we often come close!), I am in complete agreement that keeping kids outside - for lots of time, every day - is an absolute must, both for education and for soul-development. (See our ongoing outdoor challenge here!)

However, Charlotte Mason education aficionados also often add formal nature walks onto the four-hours-outside bit. This is done through scrapbooking one's nature collections (see our first efforts here) or nature-notebooking (writing down observations and drawings in a dedicated nature notebook). This is where we ran into trouble.

First of all, I knew that nature notebooking was - for now - out. Our 7yo is, like many boys, a very reluctant writer. The number of times that he has picked up a pencil or crayon voluntarily in his entire life can probably be counted on one hand. (I'm exaggerating - but only a bit.) I knew that handing him a notebook and telling him to draw and write nature observations would be something akin to torture. For me. And it wouldn't have been very fun for him, either.

Thus, as linked above, I tried scrapbooking - requiring a certain number of nature "things" to be collected, pasted on a notebooking sheet, and described. Well, it had its moments, but it pretty much fell under the category of drudgery. The 7yo did only the bare minimum to keep me happy (or rather, to keep me from losing my temper), and his interest in "nature" was approaching zero. He preferred to pick up bits of trash rather than "being one with nature" or anything along those lines.

Additionally, having formal nature walks quickly became another source of stress. Not only was it yet-another-thing to put on the to-do list, it was yet-another-thing that I hadn't gotten done yet and which was stressing me out because I hadn't completed it!

Lots of stress, no fun, little-to-no benefit. This was a no-brainer.

Thus, farewell to nature walks. Or rather, farewell to formal nature walks with item-collections and notebooking pages.

From now on, we'll still be taking the kids for plenty of walks. We'll be going on plenty of outings, and field trips, and picnics, and all the extras. We love to get the family outside. And we'll definitely be talking about the things that we see (bird nests, insects, whatever). But I won't be requiring collections. We won't be writing about what we see. And notebooking pages? Uh-uh.

They were fun - in a way. But they totally stole our joy and put another layer of to-do stress in our lives that was not necessary.

I'll have to leave nature notebooks for the homeschooling-families-who-have-everything-together (and that's definitely not us).

As for us, we're going for a walk. With NO nature notebooks!*

Is there anyone else out there for whom formal nature walks have been a flop? Please, do me a favor and tell me I'm not alone!

* I should note that this decision is totally open to change in the future. If, at some point, formal nature walks and nature notebooks become a positive thing for our family - which is entirely possible - then I am very open to reintroducing them at that point. The moral of the story is simply to do what works for your family - not to feel stress over trying to live up to what other families do, especially when it concerns something that is non-beneficial or destructive to your family now. Moral ended.

Monday, January 13, 2014

What's Changed In Our Homeschool This Year! (Part 1 of 3)

We recently started our fifth (of sixth) school term for the 2013-2014 school year, meaning that we are a bit more than two-thirds of the way through our school year.

I've already written about our year's homeschool schedule (and also why I love it!), so I'll just briefly recap our schedule here:

1st term - 6 weeks (1 week break)
2nd term - 6 weeks (1 week break)
3rd term - 6 weeks (1 week break)
4th term - 6-8 weeks (4 week Christmas break)
5th term - 6 weeks (1 week break)
6th term - 6 weeks (6 week Summer break)

I absolutely adore having a schedule, and it's been a great blessing!

Now that we are two-thirds of the way through the year, it's easy to see that some things have changed from the way we planned them out for the year. That's just fine - home education is about adapting to individual and family needs, rather than rigidly adhering to previously-conceived plans.

Thus, I thought I'd do a short series telling you about how this year - first grade for our 7yo - has changed over these past seven months.


"What's Changed In Our Homeschool This Year" - Part 1 of 3 is....

We've ditched our phonics program!

Isn't that fun? Yup, it's back in its box on the curriculum shelf, and it's actually been there for a good four-plus months.

Was it because we found something better? Because we gave it up in disgust?

Nope, it's because the 7yo is reading fluently and doesn't need it any more!

*Throws wild party!*

This year we continued with Rocket Phonics, and were very pleased with it. However, a month or two in, I noticed that our 7yo was mysteriously reading words with letter combinations that I had not yet taught him. Weird, but okay. However, a month or two after that, he suddenly moved from "hesitant reader" to "completely fluent reader who didn't need the help of the phonics book any more" - wow!

It was fast. It was sudden. It was completely unexpected. And we were thrilled!

In the American public school system, going from non-reader to reader at age seven might be considered on the late side. And as a child, I taught myself to read independently before my fourth birthday. Thus, several years ago when our then-3yo showed no interest in reading, I was at the time quite alarmed.

But in reading book-upon-book-upon-book on home education, I learned an important fact (that is usually overlooked in institutionalized education) - reading is a developmental skill. It doesn't come at the same time for all children. It comes much later for most boys than it does for girls. And it usually comes much more easily and with less pain and frustration when it is allowed to emerge in its God-given time than when it is forced at earlier-and-earlier ages, as is currently happening in American schools.

Our son went from non-reader to reader almost overnight. I would state confidently that he is now several grade levels beyond where he would be expected to be in the public school system - whereas six months ago he probably would have been labeled as "behind." Seeing the reading skill emerge so quickly and spontaneously has given me much more confidence in trusting to a child's inborn timing rather than trying to force reading lessons at early ages (as I originally did with our son, to the frustration of both of us). When our next comes along, I will start reading lessons at age six (unless requested earlier, which I am glad to oblige), but I won't worry about forcing a child to read who isn't ready - and I can't wait to see the transition from non-reader to voracious-reader happen again.

So what has replaced phonics? Our 7yo is obviously not reading at an adult level, so practice is still needed. And in place of phonics, we have simply put reading aloud. Every morning I choose a book for us to read together, and we alternate reading either pages or sentences aloud. It's much more enjoyable than reading lists of words, and he is improving at a phenomenal rate. I am very pleased, and plan to continue this method indefinitely.

It's so much fun watching children make great leaps of ability as their minds put the pieces together. This year has seen similar big jumps in math ability, among others. They're never expected, but always fun.

I can't wait to see what the rest of the year holds!

Friday, January 10, 2014

In Which....The 7yo Bakes a Cake!

Yesterday, I was briefly feeling a little under the weather. To make me feel better, our eldest decided to bake me a cake!

Mind you, while he has often helped in the kitchen, he has not yet made anything on his own.

When I showed up half an hour later, he had mixed up some sort of concoction of eggs, sugar, milk, and... hot chocolate powder.

I was extremely doubtful as to its ultimate fate, but I want to encourage any instance of helpfulness or kindness, so I immediately offered to bake it off for him. He cheerfully assented, so into the oven it went. To my intense surprise, it actually set up a bit and smelled not too bad!

We all sampled it later, and it tasted like... hmm. I guess it tasted like an overly-sweet soggy chocolate quiche-pudding. No one went back for seconds (or even a second bite), but that's not bad for a 7yo's first free-hand cake! In actuality, he was only off a bit from an authentic flour-less chocolate cake (chocolate, eggs, butter, sugar).

Obviously, great culinary accomplishments are ahead.

Afterwards, I helped him to make our favorite Fannie Farmer's Golden Cake (we love Fannie Farmer from Fannie in the Kitchen), which came out beautifully.

With lemon glaze from our leftover King Cake. YUM.

I love seeing big jumps in responsibility and ability like this. Sometimes it just takes that little, "Okay, maybe we haven't arrived, but we're getting somewhere" to give hope along the parenting journey. Seeing the jump from, "I don't care that mommy is sick, I need such-and-such" to "Mommy is sick, so I'm going to bake her a cake!" is huge. Huge, big, earth-shaking, and immeasurably cheering.

Life is good.

Have a wonderful night, dear friends.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Happy Epiphany! (Hand Over the Cake!)

Or, to put it more succinctly, hand over the cake NOW and no one gets hurt.

Happy Epiphany!

Though I grew up Lutheran, Epiphany - the celebration of when the wise men visited the Christ Child - was never considered particularly important. Part of the blame, of course, falls on the fact that Epiphany is right after Christmas. It might be a fun holiday, but everyone's too tired to care. "We Three Kings" went on the hymn list for the week, and we called it a day.

But this past year, when reading "Strega Nona's Gift," I decided to pick a couple of fun oft-ignored holidays to try to work into our family's holiday schedule.

Last year we had fun making Santa Lucia bread for Santa Lucia Day, and I planned to do that again this year - but didn't make it. (Hoping to pick it up again next year.) Next year I'd also love to pick up on Las Posadas. 

But we did make it to Epiphany this year!

Myth has it that on the Eve of Epiphany, one should always feed one's animals extra well - because on the Eve of Epiphany, animals are given the gift of speech for one night. If poorly fed, of course, they will talk badly about their masters.

This is, of course, a myth - but we had fun with it anyway! "Oh, boy - better feed the cats well tonight! Never know what they're gonna say!"

Then on Epiphany itself, one bakes a King Cake with a small plastic baby baked into it - the recipient, of course, being the favored person who will have good luck over the coming year.

Anyhow, it's an easy and fun holiday - both from a biblical perspective and as a cultural-mythological holiday.

We made our King Cake yesterday, using this recipe. I was expecting a run-of-the-mill sweet bread, and thus, when I caved and tried a bite, I was absolutely blown away.

I have finally found culinary nirvana, and it's called King Cake. 

Wow. That stuff is amazing! Don't believe me? Come over, and I'll fight you over it! (And then I'll take your piece and enjoy every morsel of it.)

But in the meantime, you've got to try this awesome recipe!!!

One tip - start this early in the day. I ended up pulling it out of the oven at ten o'clock at night, when I was dead tired (and ready to be doing other things, like chores and taking a shower), and it didn't help that I also had wired kids bouncing off walls while they waited for the cake to be done.

A delicate, chewy texture, flavored with a hint of nutmeg. Add in a cream cheese filling and a lemon-cream glaze, and you have.... a food for the gods. And yes, that IS our open dishwasher beneath it. It's called professional photography, people. 

I should note that it's supposed to be baked on a cookie sheet, but I decided to do a half-recipe in a Bundt pan. It worked beautifully.

My piece. One of them. 

Ours was not colored in the traditional way (stripes of pastel-colored sugar - see recipe link for the proper decor), but we did our best. And twelve hours after it came out of the oven... it was gone.

About the "good luck toy" - we didn't have a tiny plastic baby, so I went English-style instead and put in a sixpence (okay, it was a quarter). It was a complete disaster. It came out of the cake as soon as it was unmolded, and much as I kept trying to stick it back in, it kept falling out. I eventually gave up in disgust. Next time I'll find a toy and do it properly!

In the meantime, ENJOY! This is one holiday tradition that has come to our house to stay!

* Note - I learned later that this cake, while called King Cake, is actually a different kind of King Cake - one that is traditionally made in New Orleans during Mardi Gras (the Wednesday before the start of Lent). Well, gee. I made completely the wrong dessert for the wrong holiday. You win some... and you lose some... but I think I've found our Epiphany dessert anyway! YUM. We'll just be a bit radical in terms of messing up traditions of the liturgical year. 

* Even later note - Finding definite information on this cake is very difficult - it's all over the place! Another source I found says that King Cake is served anytime between Epiphany and Lent, in which case we didn't screw up after all. 

So, when all is said and done, just forget historicity and enjoy the cake. 

Monday, January 6, 2014

Keeping the Holidays Sane With a HOLIDAY NOTEBOOK!

Last year, I was introduced to the wonderful concept of a summer notebook - a really cute idea that helps keep summer vacation fun and relatively organized. I tried it, and it was great!

This fall I decided to use the same idea to make a notebook to organize the three months of our holiday season (November, December, January) - and it was a great success!

In the past, I have used FlyLady's Holiday Control Journal, and it is a great free resource (download here). I highly recommend it. However, it has way too much material for me (though I have tried just printing off the pages I need), and in many ways, it stresses me out due to its complexity. We're trying to simplify Christmas, not just organize the insanity. Thus, making my own holiday notebook was the next logical step - and the easiest way to add just what I need without extra pages that would bog me down (and make me feel guilty for all the stuff I don't do!).

Here is my holiday notebook.

Are you impressed? You should be. Wow, look at that red notebook. Impressive. 

And here are the different components contained within...

Calendar pages - one per month. I copied events from my personal calendar, and then added an activity or craft to do at home on the blank days:

A page to record Christmas gifts (for thank-you notes):

[Picture left out - too many personal family details! Just imagine it.}

A meal plan for Christmas week - especially important as I had both houseguests and a job playing for a Christmas Eve service, so we needed everything planned ahead of time:

A printout of my Evernote list of activities planned for each holiday:

And finally, an article that I wanted to keep handy (link) to remind myself of plans for Christmas morning:

It was simple, easy to keep track of, and a great help.

Each mama's notebook would contain different items - no two notebooks will look alike. But if you haven't given this idea a try - and find the holidays as stressful as I do - it might be a good thing to look into for next year! I'm already looking forward to planning my 2014 holiday notebook!


Sunday, January 5, 2014

In Which New Year's Eve Is Saved From COMPLETE Disaster

In other words, it was still a disaster. But not a complete one.

But I digress.

Normally, we spend New Year's Eve up in northern Arizona with DH's folks. We watch old movies, eat leftover Christmas goodies, and have a great time. This year, for the first time ever, DH's parents were unable to host, and we were on our own.

Oh, no! You mean I have to think of something to do on my own

Yup, pretty much.

Being that I was still tired from Christmas, I had a hard time mustering any enthusiasm for planning yet another holiday. (Why, why must we Americans lump our holidays so tightly together? What were we thinking?) Thus, the day before New Year's Eve, I posted a request for ideas on Facebook - and a sweet friend gave me this easy and extremely fun idea. Here it is!

Simply take index cards, write the evening hours on them (ending with bedtime, or thereabouts - however long you want your kidlets up):

On the other side, write a fun activity on each card:

Fold in half, and slip into a bag. If you want to be uber-creative, you could wrap them, put them in prettier bags, or make up some sort of treasure hunt to search for them. I settled for the super-simple this year.

Then give the kids the cards, and let them open them at the right times as the night progresses.

This was such a great idea! Hopefully we won't have to spend New Year's Eve by ourselves again, but if we do, we'll definitely do this - and we might even use this for other celebration dates!

Here were some of the "special things" I put on the back of the cards (in case you can't read them from the pictures):

- Make brownies with mom (I used the crockpot brownies-in-a-mug recipe - so fun!)
- Start crockpot hot chocolate
- Pick a board game and play it
- Eat brownies and milk
- Pick one cookie and eat it
- Fill out our "Remember 2013" New Year's sheet
- Watch the ball drop in Times Square

So how'd it go?

Well, not so hot, actually. It was a bit of a rough night. I wasn't feeling well, DH was out of sorts, and the kids were on the cantankerous and rowdy side. At times it was a bit stressful.

What I didn't realize, of course, was that a wee little virus had happily flitted into our household, and all of our kids were getting sick - and thus were displaying that mysterious pre-illness "Why are these kids so doggone cranky?" syndrome. Two of them woke up with it the next day, and two more on Friday (I'm including DH in the count!), and I am now coming down with it. So that put a definite damper on the fun.

Also, I had forgotten why I despise board games with young kids. Suffice it to say, never again. Or at least, not any time soon. I'll reconsider at some point - say, 2037.

However, this game was really the saving grace of the evening. Otherwise, it would have been a complete disaster, but as it was, this put some fun into the evening. Next time I'll leave out board games and put in something easier like "make a tent out of blankets in the living room." I learned some tips of the trade.

Additionally, this year was the last year that we are going to watch the ball drop in Times Square. We turned on the "TV" (i.e. the computer) two minutes before ball-drop time, and we were very disappointed. We were thinking "a fun show," but it looked more like some type of manic orgy consisting mainly of really bad music and close-ups of really intimate kissing. I was embarrassed, DH was disgusted, and we both thought, "Why on earth are we actually showing this to our innocent children?" We shut it off the second the ball dropped, and we shut it off for good. Next year we'll just go outside and drop a pine cone. It will be a big improvement on the New York scene, for sure!

And with that, we head (officially!) into 2014. School starts back up tomorrow, and I'm going to be working hard on my current goals - and the main one for tomorrow will be staying on schedule!

I look forward to interacting with you all over the coming year!

Cheers, everyone! Happy Sabbath!

Saturday, January 4, 2014

In Which I Refrain From Making New Year's Resolutions!

As I've mentioned in years past, I do my best not to make New Year's resolutions. Despite my best intentions, they inevitably fall by the wayside within, oh, twenty minutes or so. Two days later, I can't even remember my resolutions, let alone keep them.

But I always enjoy spending some time at the end of each year looking back to see what the year has held, and how far we've come - and what directions or goals I'd like to have for coming months.

Again, nothing formal. As Amy at Raising Arrows said so wisely this week,
"All I can do is walk. I have been given just a little light on my path.  I walk one step and wait.  I walk another and wait.  I know eventually there will be more light on the path, but even then, it won’t be much."
In other words, it's not possible to sit at one spot (January 1st) and know what the Lord has planned for us for an entire upcoming twelve months. Often we are given only enough light on our path to take the next step - not plan all the steps ahead for month upon month into the future.

In some ways, that's where we are right now. Our family too is in a state of limbo. Though we've been in this unemployment journey for an unbelievable fifteen months now, we are still not at the end of it. DH has created a business that he is greatly enjoying, but it is not yet producing enough income to provide for our family. We don't know if it will work out in time, or if he will be forced to take a corporate job in the end.

It's just not possible to plan too far in advance. School plans, travel plans, etc. - everything major is on hold until we reach a place of more stability. Thus, I won't be making a lot of long-term big plans for our family, our school, or our home. It's just not possible, so those type of plans will have to wait.

But despite the financial hardship - and this past year was financially disastrous for us! - 2013 was actually an awesome year. Sounds odd, but it's true. We have come so far, individually and as a family. I think it's been the most spiritually productive year that we've ever had in our decade-long marriage.

And to be honest, unemployment was a big part of that growth. We didn't want DH to lose his job - it was comfortable and met our needs, even though it wasn't particularly interesting - but the road that we've traveled spiritually this year would not have been possible without that motivating catastrophe. And having DH at home for an entire year has been absolutely awesome. It's been an entirely new way of doing family, and one that we want to continue. That's why DH has been plugging away at developing a home business instead of diving enthusiastically into corporate interviews - now that we've discovered how life can be when lived together, as opposed to "Dad at work" totally separated from "Mom with the kids at home," we definitely don't want to go back to the old way unless we absolutely have to. Life for us is just better with Dad home. 


I've gotten sidetracked!

Back to the point! The point of this whole post was simply to say that while I do try to avoid formal New Year's resolutions, I am working on many areas of our home and family life, as well as my own spiritual life - and I thought you all might like to see what those areas are!

Here we go, before I get side-tracked again!

Areas of improvement that I am currently working on (and hope to continue working on during the coming year) are....

Good stewardship of my time

As time presses on, I find that I have more, and more, and more responsibilities - but my time and energy stay constant! Thus, I must find more and more ways to use my time productively. Primarily, this means learning not to fritter my time away on useless internet browsing (can we say Facebook?). It's so easy for me to sit down "just to look up a quick recipe" and find, twenty minutes later, that I've automatically started wasting precious time surfing the web. This is NOT OKAY, and I mean for it to stop. I have already implemented a working system for this, which I hope to share for you soon. I've also deactivated my Facebook account, testing the waters to see if I can live without it - if so, I hope to end up deleting it. Why? Read the article here. As Cindy says so eloquently,
"I think we’ve been duped, homeschooling (and especially homeschool blogging) mamas. We’ve been tricked into thinking that we can simultaneously be with our children and not be with our children, or with our friends, or with our husbands. We think that because we’re in their physical presence, we’re doing what we ought to. But my children know better. They know when mommy is distracted by what some stupid stranger on Facebook said. They know when she’s cranky because someone who means nothing to her has said something horrible about her faith or her family or (Lord help me) her looks. They can tell when she has yet again turned her brain off to look at meaningless things that have nothing to do with her real work, her family."
That about sums it up. I'd like to quote more from the article, but I'd end up quoting the whole thing - so, again, if you didn't already click the link, go read it.

(I'm going to post more about my Facebook exit - hopefully soon!)

Emotions and words with DH and the children

Have you heard about the rice experiment? Wowza. But even without the experimental data that comes from yelling mean things at a jar of rice every day, the truth is blaringly obvious - as a wife and mama, my words are incredibly powerful. I can bless - or hurt - my family very powerfully by how I choose to open my mouth. While I have come so far, I have so far yet to go. This is an area of my life that I am keeping in serious prayer as I attempt to make lots of improvement in this area. In other words, it's time to get in my Michelle Duggar groove. I don't know if I'll ever attain that level of sheer awesomeness, but I can try!

Decluttering and housekeeping

The decluttering bug bites me about once a year, and I am thankful that I am showing signs of the bug once again. Thank heavens! It frustrates me greatly that the only thing standing between me and my minimalist dream-lifestyle is me. Nothing else is stopping me! If only I could pound that into my head, we'd have a much simpler household. Of course, it doesn't help that I have the huge American Culture of Stuff working against me - no matter how much I shovel out the door, more seems to come in! But again, that's my fault. I'm the one letting it in and letting it stay. And I need to work on that.

I also need to work on streamlining my housekeeping. As our family grows and our home education program grows, my time for housekeeping shrinks. Anything that is optional needs to go, and anything that needs to happen must happen more quickly. Period. Now, to learn how to do that!

Chore systems

This is an area of major disaster and breakdown in our home. Current problems: (1) I have not assigned our children enough chores. This is a character issue - we have entitlement issues and lack of responsibility issues. (2) I don't check up on chores regularly enough. Translation - Chores are being done sloppily or not at all. I need to check consistently, and provide consequences for undone or badly done jobs. (3) We have attitude problems - reluctance, lack of diligence, entitlement, an unwillingness to help out with needed jobs.

All that to say - I need to work on chores. Chore charts, checking on chores, working and praying and training on attitudes - all of that needs to happen.

Developing a life of prayer

I grew up with a very anemic view of prayer. In other words, prayer is something that we do because we're supposed to, but it's merely a formality because it's not going to do any good. It's taken me a very long time to get over that unbiblical mindset (though I still have shreds of it hanging around my soul), and I now want very much to be a woman of prayer (rather than a woman of nagging or a woman of fretting, etc. etc.). It's a big change!

(This is also a continual struggle for me because I tend to be very uptight and focused on my to-do list. "Yes, I need to pray, but I also need to clean out the refrigerator!!" Staying in one place long enough to have a decent prayer life is a decided challenge.)

Working on FOOD

Oh, goodness. FOOD. Where to start? In any family, food takes up so many different facets of life. Here are just a few of them...

- I am working on learning to cook for a large family. "But," says the ever-sapient reader, "Why would you cook for a large family when you don't have a large family?" Good question! There are a couple of reasons!
  • Our family is growing. Not literally (at the moment), but there's always the possibility. Additionally, our children are getting bigger - and eating more! (And the 4yo has always eaten like a teenager anyway!)
  • I am working on a project suggested by a friend of mine - that is, cooking a huge meal every night and serving leftovers for lunch the next day. This is such a time-saver and a head-saver when I can make it work!! (And it's also a great way to work on the 7yo's picky eating! "Didn't like it? Great! Here it is AGAIN! Learn to love it, child!") But it requires thinking in much bigger terms with food preparation. 
  • I am working on meal planning, which is a big area of failure right now. I'm actually good at the planning bit, but thinking of what to make is a constant frustration, and I need to work into a better system on that end. 
- I am working on our food quality. Adding organic when we can (not often right now!), adding lacto-fermented foods, trying for fresh vegetables, etc. 

- I am working - always, always, always - on our food budget. This is a huge undertaking, and will probably continue for the rest of my life. Learning where - and when - to shop. Getting started with Azure Standard and local co-ops and super-market overload markets. Learning prices, learning to buy and store food in bulk, learning where is the best deal on individual items. (Coconut oil? Sam's Club! Oatmeal? Azure Standard! Produce? Market on the Move! Canned goods? Walmart! Grocery items? American Discount Foods!) You see? It's a monumental task, and I'm working to improve constantly. 

In working on our food budget, I regularly encounter two conflicts, which are:
  • Money vs. Health - If I don't care what my family eats, then it is easy to feed them cheaply. Very easy. Of course, they'll end up with serious short-term and chronic health conditions, have horrible behavior problems (Red 40, anyone?), and be sick all the time - but at least it would be cheap! In all seriousness - there is a constant balancing act between trying to keep our budget down while trying to eat healthy foods. The unfortunate fact is that really bad food is really, really cheap - and good food costs more. 
  • Time vs. Health - Good food, besides requiring more money, also requires more time and work - especially in the areas of lacto-fermentations (yogurt, kombucha, kefir, lacto-fermented salsa, etc.) and produce-processing (washing, chopping, freezing, bagging, etc.). I'm willing to put in hard work - but there's also a balance between hard work and running myself ragged. I remember in particular one time last spring when I spent a weekend freezing bell peppers, putting up pickles (which later went bad), turning tomatoes into tomato sauce, boiling and pureeing squash, and freezing green beans - at the end of it, I was near tears. Yes, we saved a lot of money, which was great - but I also have to consider my sanity. It's a balance. 
What can I say? FOOD. It takes work, and it will continue to do so this year. 

And finally, I am working on...

The Smoothness of Our MORNINGS

Right now, I find our mornings (from when the children get up till after lunch) to be incredibly stressful. Usually I'm pretty much ready to wring necks before breakfast is over - sometimes before! A good deal of this can be contributed to my aforementioned failure in the area of chores (see above). Another bit can be attributed to having two babies and to having a great deal more to do with our morning hours than can possibly be done.

But I know that there are areas that I can improve, and I plan to be in serious prayer about this while I work on streamlining our mornings and making them more pleasant.

In Conclusion!

I have a lot going on around here! And really, it's just a continuous cycle. As one area of my life grows into better shape, another area shows up needing work. I have the feeling that that is just life-on-earth, rather than anything I'll ever mature out of.

But I want to do my best to put in the work to make our home, our family, our educational system, and my heart as good possible with the strength that I have.

This year I've seen something new-to-me going around - that is, choosing a theme word for the coming year.

Jacinda at Growing Home chose LOVE.

          Tristan at Our Busy Homeschool chose HOLINESS.

                               Heather at Raising Mighty Arrows chose INTENTIONAL.

I have decided that my word for 2014 is going to be STEWARDSHIP.

I have been given certain jurisdictions in this life o' mine. I am the STEWARD of my mind - I shouldn't be wasting my very-limited brain-space on endless Facebook trivia. I am the STEWARD of my time - I don't want to fritter it away on things that have no value. I am the STEWARD of my home - I want it to be decent-looking and livable. I am the STEWARD of our home education system - I want to do a good job and make sure that our children receive a first-class education to the best of my abilities. I am the STEWARD of our family's well-being - I need to make sure that I am treating my husband and children with love and doing a good job of looking after them.

I cannot afford to waste - to waste time, energy, emotional energy. I need to be the steward that God requires me to be.

And that is what I'm working on this year!

What can you expect from this blog this coming year?

Not much. That's the beauty of being a small-time blogger! I have no obligations, no promised post-schedules, no link-up parties, no webinars. I don't know where I'll be headed, and I don't know where this blog will be headed. But I do know that I love to write, and I hope to connect regularly with you all, bringing you along on the journey that this coming year will hold for our family.

I hope that you'll join me!

Dear readers, I would love to hear about what you are working on right now in your lives, hearts, and homes, and I'd love to hear any suggestions or input about what I've written! Please feel free to chime in!

Happy New Year from Arizona! 

Because every blog post about New Year's resolutions should end with a completely unrelated picture of a baby in a WWI army hat.