Monday, November 7, 2016

Giveaway Winners announced

Thank you to everyone who entered the giveaway for the mulling spices to make spiced cider. There were 40 entries total, and five winners drawn. I used to generate five numbers.

The winners are:

#38 - Debra

#14 - Faye

#12 - Emily

#1 - Jessica

#16 - Becky


Please leave me a comment with the address you would like me to mail your spices to. I will not publish your comment so others won't be able to see your address.

Thank you for playing along!

Friday, November 4, 2016

Favorite Fall Recipes, Part 3 - Corn Muffins and Honey Butter

This is the final part in my "Favorite Fall Recipes" mini series. These corn muffins make a great accompaniment to chili. They are good on their own, but they become truly phenomenal when served freshly baked, split open and slathered in lots of honey butter.

Corn Muffins

Yields: 24-30 muffins

1/2 lb (2 sticks) salted butter, softened or melted
1/2 cup sugar
2 large eggs or 3 medium
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup cornmeal (fine grind)
2 tbsp baking powder
2 to 2 1/2 cups whole milk

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line muffin cups with paper liners.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs and continue beating until incorporated. Turn the mixer off, add flour, cornmeal, and baking powder to the bowl and turn the mixer on the lowest speed while slowly pouring milk into the bowl to incorporate the dry ingredients. Mix until just well combined. (If necessary, add up to 1/2 cup more milk to get a batter that is neither dry, nor runny - it should be very moist but hold its shape). 

Scoop approx. 1/4 cup of batter into each muffin liner - an ice cream scoop works great for this. Bake for 18-20 minutes until the tops are turning golden and a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Cool slightly before removing from pan.

These corn muffins do make a nice breakfast side dish, too. Simply whip up the batter the night before, refrigerate overnight, and scoop out and bake fresh in the morning. 

Honey butter

4 oz (1 stick) salted, grass-fed butter at room temperature (Kerrigold is perfect for this)
 1/2 cup raw, unfiltered honey

Combine the honey and butter in a bowl with an electric mixer or a stick blender. Serve at room temperature along with corn muffins.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Favorite Fall Recipes, Part 2 - Church-favorite Bean Dip

This bean dip is pretty legendary around our church, thanks to my husband singing its praises to everyone and making them try it. Once they do, of course they agree it's the best food they have ever tasted, period. This item goes super fast whenever I bring it, the dish gets scraped clean, people beg for more, and those who didn't get any start crying and offer their firstborn in exchange for the recipe. Or something like that. 

Are you ready? There are only a handful of ingredients that go into this, so it's super important that you buy the exact right ones, or it won't come out tasting like mine. Which would be a tragedy, and you'd be back to square one on the weeping and wailing part. 

Church-favorite Bean Dip 

1.5 lbs ground beef (grass-fed for best flavor)
1/4 cup taco seasoning (recipe here)
6 cans Trader Joe's brand "salsa style" refried pinto beans
2 cups sour cream
2 cups salsa
4 cups shredded cheddar (New Zealand grass-fed cheddar from TJ's is best)
1 tsp high quality salt (I use Redmond's Real Salt)

Brown the ground beef, then season with taco seasoning. Add it to a 6-qt slow cooker along with all other ingredients, stir thoroughly to combine, and heat on low until cheese is melted and the dip is hot, about 2 hours. Serve with corn chips (duh).

So easy, so quick, and so delicious that your family will adore you forever.

You are welcome. ;-)

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Favorite Fall Recipes, Part 1 - Spiced Cider (and a Giveaway!)

Each year on October 31st, our church hosts a Chili Cook-off as an alternative event for people to attend who do not celebrate Halloween. This avoids having to answer the door to trick-or-treaters, or hiding out at home with the lights off. 

When we first began this tradition 11 years ago, only two chilis were entered. By now, we have to limit entries to the first 20 chilis, and the competition is pretty stiff. Since my husband as the pastor is an all-time judge (the other four are randomly drawn), I never enter a chili myself, but every year I do provide the three main sides. Funny side note: my husband's mom was in town for our cook-off this year, so she took his place as a judge.

 Here's a picture of the judges' table because I didn't have one of the spiced cider - though you can see me in the background pouring another gallon of it into the dispenser.

This year, I made 15 gallons of spiced cider, 3 gallons of bean dip, and 180 corn muffins. All three ran out halfway through the evening, so I'll have to up my game next year. Like every year, I got asked for the recipes of these foods, and I promised to share them on my blog. So I bring you this mini-series of my favorite fall recipes. 

Spiced Cider:

8 cups apple juice (organic, unfiltered gives the best flavor)
2 cups water
3 Tbsp frozen orange juice concentrate  
6 Tbsp sugar (Demerara or Turbinado is best, otherwise use brown sugar)

In a large pot, combine all ingredients, stir to dissolve sugar, and heat over medium heat just until very hot but not boiling. Immediately strain the mulling spices out and serve hot or cold.

Caution: If the mulling spices are left in longer than it takes to heat the spiced cider, they will make it turn bitter.

Mulling spices:

You can buy it ready, or make your own by combining 

4 parts dried orange peel
4 parts cinnamon chips
1 part whole allspice, and 
1 part whole cloves

Since I know that the biggest hurdle to making this spiced cider is finding the mulling spices, and since I made 2 1/2 lbs of it for the cook-off and have some left over, and since this blog post really needs another photo (ahem), I am hosting a little giveaway of packets of mulling spices. Leave a comment below and be entered into a random drawing of FIVE readers that I will mail one of these single-serve packets to (free, of course). US only, ends this Sunday night.

Happy Fall, y'all!

(P.S. You can print this recipe by clicking the green button below.)

Friday, October 28, 2016

Livestream tonight - "How to teach your child to read"

Just a heads-up that tonight at 7 p.m. MST I am doing a workshop on "How to teach your child to read" that will be streamed live on this channel

Hopefully, we can also get the video embedded below once the event starts, so please check back here, or go directly to the YouTube link above if you want to tune in live. 

Comments will be disabled, but if you have a specific question you would like to see covered, please leave it in the comments below.

Edited to add: Please click here to see a Google preview of the handout to go along with this workshop. Once that page opens, you will need to click on the download symbol at the top right of the page, and then select "Open with Microsoft Word." This will allow you to print it out without the original formatting being compromised. 

Friday, October 21, 2016

Breaking radio silence

I knew life has been busy, but I did not realize it has been a month and a half since I last got a chance to blog. This time of year through the beginning of the new year is always a busy season for us, but it has been complicated this year by sweet little Chloe.

Chloe loves her doll "Miss Pearl"

Tiny but mighty, this little peanut has turned out to be one of my most challenging babies. And I'm afraid we have nobody but ourselves to blame. With plenty of older siblings to help out, she has been picked up, carried, rocked, and otherwise treated royally since birth. We didn't just jump to attention at the slightest whimper out of her, but rather before she would ever even start complaining. As a result, she had become quite "spoiled," for lack of a better term. At first, after getting her to sleep, I could at least move her to the bed/cradle/swing, but soon she would wake immediately after being moved, and so for the last two months Chloe has only slept when being held by me. And not just held in a carrier, which would give me some freedom of movement, but held in my arms, rocking her in my quiet, dark room with the door shut. You can imagine how doable that is with a large family! 

We were all starting to get sleep-deprived and desperate, and things were getting worse, not better. Evidently, you CAN indulge a baby too much, and teach them bad (sleep) habits at a young age. All my other babies were good sleepers and naturally fell into a good routine by 3 months of age, so this is a new experience for me. 

Chloe in the matching clothes that Miriam made for her doll.

The last couple of days, after all else had failed, I have been working on sleep training little Chloe in earnest, much to the horror of the little girls who cannot stand to hear her crying at all. Yes, there was crying involved. :( It was rough, really, but desperate times call for desperate measures. Thankfully, Chloe is as smart as they come, and just as she was clever enough to figure out how to make us all do her bidding without being able to say so much as a single word, she has very quickly caught on to "time to go night-night." I'm sure there are still some rough patches ahead of us, but both last night and this morning she went down while awake happily and without complaint, and then stayed asleep for long stretches of time. This is a huge improvement from taking two hours of my time to go down to nap, only to wake 5 minutes later!  

In one of those hours of newfound freedom, I have been able to upload some of my pictures from the last two months. As soon as I get the rest moved to the computer, I will be able to blog more about what we have been up to recently. Like this little guy:

Come check back soon! :)

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Field Trip Fun

We are currently on week 5 of the school year. Our family goes on field trips and special outings every week, and once a month, I also organize a field trip for all the home educating families in our church. On average, these church-wide field trips bring a total of 100-120 people, so we are getting to be quite a large group.

The first of those church field trips was to the Legoland Discovery Center that recently opened up in Arizona. The kids and parents all had a blast. 

Solomon is quite a bit taller than me now...

That's some excellent cell phone quality photography with kids looking straight into the sun... Keeping it real! All the nice-looking photos in this post were not taken by me. I like this one though because it shows how the older ones help out by pairing up with a younger sibling (they pick which one, so it's always changing). 

Stephen was wailing because he couldn't take the coins out of the fountain in the back. He is always wanting to make a buck by raiding fountains, which of course we don't allow. This is the same child who when I was reading Revelation 21 to the kids, got excited about the fountain of the water of life, asking if in Heaven he would finally be allowed to take money out of the fountain.

That little Boaz is stinkin' cute, and he knows it, too. I will admit to having a special soft spot for him because I am reminded of his twinnie in heaven every time I look at him. It's not that I love him more than the other kids, it's just that for the time being, I have to lavish all my love for his brother on him. We all agree that he is an extra special blessing, one we can't imagine life without. 

On Labor Day, we put on a (Don't Go) Back to School party for all the school-aged kids in our church (as well as their younger siblings and parents), where we had a water balloon fight and ice cream at a park near church. Thanks to these balloons, one volunteer helper was able to fill 2,100 water balloons in about 50 minutes using just one hose. I definitely recommend these!

First round: ages 5 and down. We wanted them to have fun without getting hurt by the older kids.

Second round: ages 6-10, boys against girls. The girls clearly seemed to have the upper hand, as they were constantly taking the battle to the boys side, and invading "enemy territory."

Final round: older kids vs. parents. This one was especially fun!

 Look at little Bo trailing behind me. :)
 Boom! I love this picture of my husband and John, though I can't take credit for taking it.

Once the remnants of the broken balloons had been picked up, ther was ice cream for all. Such a fun night!

Making great memories with friends and family is one of the many blessings of homeschooling.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

The destructive effects of birth control on marriage

Then said Elkanah her husband to her, Hannah, why weepest thou? and why eatest thou not? and why is thy heart grieved? am not I better to thee than ten sons? (I Samuel 1:8)

I wonder if  every mother who has ever read the above verse laughed a little on the inside and thought, "No."
Before you say I must not love my husband very much, consider this: Which mother would ever choose one of her own children over ten of them? So if even Elkanah's own mother, who loved him like only a mother can, would not have chosen him over ten other of her children, I think it's safe to assume that Hannah didn't feel that way, either. And chances are, the same is true for any wife anywhere, at any time in history.

Birth control destroys marriages on many levels. There are detrimental physical effects such as decreased desire and altering women's perception of what they want in a man (until they get off the artificial hormones and discover they can't stand the guy any longer). There are spiritual effects such as reinforcing selfishness and showing a lack of faith in God's provision, both of which are critical components of a failed marriage. There are the unspoken insults to the other spouse and children - I don't want your kids, I don't want any more of you. There is even the very practical aspect that when there are no children in the home, it is far easier and more likely for one spouse to commit adultery. I am not saying it is right, I am just saying statistics show us these are all factors contributing to the downfall of marriage.

Yet, every single day, men are staking their marriage on the wrong assumption that their wife would rather have them than children. I say "men" because in virtually all cases where couples intentionally prevent having children, the driving force behind that decision is the man, or at the very least he is failing to win over his wife to where she would desire children. Virtually all women, especially Christians who love the Lord and trust in his provision, would want nothing more than children if they felt supported and appreciated, and felt that the children were a great source of joy to her husband. If your wife does not want a baby, you have failed to make her feel safe, loved, and supported. She doesn't want children because she doesn't want more of YOU. She doesn't want to hear you gripe more about the finances, or how the kids are a burden, or how you wish you could do XYZ instead. Nobody wants to have kids with a selfish whiner who is a spiritual weakling.

It is no coincidence that permanent birth control measures are virtually always pushed and performed during pregnancy or birth - when people are least likely to want another child. Because newsflash - nobody wants to think about running another marathon while they are already in a race (or just finished one). Nobody wants to think of the next meal when they are still stuffed from the last. Nobody wants another baby right after giving birth. But give it some time, and as the baby grows older, those desires will wake once more, and get stronger and stronger as time goes by.

So men, before you do something permanent like getting a vasectomy or pushing your wife into a tubal ligation, please consider that sooner or later, your wife will come to the painful realization that she would like to have more children, even if you don't. And when she does, she might decide to leave you and try for more children with another man. You certainly wouldn't be the first man to have this happen to you. I have seen this play out in my circle of (Christian!) friends and acquaintances many times. 

Even if your wife doesn't leave you for the express purpose of seeking children elsewhere (and she shouldn't), she is likely to harbor complete disappointment in and resentment toward you, neither of which make fertile ground for a long and happy marriage. Just check Google for the sad stories of wives whose husbands are taking from them the one thing every normal woman wants more than anything else, and you can see how this strain may eventually lead to the destruction of their marriage.

There are three things that are never satisfied, yea, four things say not, It is enough: The grave; and the barren womb; the earth that is not filled with water; and the fire that saith not, It is enough. (Proverbs 30:15, 16)

A harsh truth? Yes. Let the scoffers scoff, and let those who have not yet made these mistakes learn and beware. Can children be a burden on marriage? To the selfish, yes. To those who are not Christians and know nothing of the provision of God, yes. But to the children of God, there is no greater blessing this side of heaven than having kids. Depriving your spouse of God's greatest blessing will severely undermine if not destroy your marriage.

On the flipside, rest assured that nothing will ever make your wife love you more than giving her the children she wants, supporting the family (financially and otherwise), making the necessary sacrifices without grudging, and building her up when she is at the end of her rope.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Fatal Forgetfulness

Question: What kind of person could ever forget their child in the car?

Answer: Me. You.  Anyone.

Already this year, 27 children have perished in hots cars, which is one more than died in all of last year. On average, there are 37 hot car deaths in the US per year. We usually only hear about the fatalities, or some of the very near misses. Many, many more times through fortunate circumstances or some last minute reminder, children are forgotten but recovered quickly and unharmed.

Every time one of these heartbreaking stories hits the news, the comments are overwhelmingly angry and accusatory, along the lines of: 

Someone should lock them in the car on a hot summer day!

Forgot? Yeah right! I bet they just wanted to get rid of the child.

I bet they didn't forget their cell phone.

Of course, such tragic loss comes as a shock to any parent. We all want to think WE could never do such a thing. By condemning the "guilty," we tell ourselves that great parents such as ourselves could NEVER forget their baby in a car. 

But the truth is, anyone is capable of forgetting their child in a car. Doctors, lawyers, and a rocket scientist have all made the same fatal mistake that the Wal-Mart employee made in Texas yesterday. Moms and dads, rich and poor, old and young of every race are equally likely to forget their child, because it has nothing to do with our parenting, but all to do with the human brain. 

Our brains are designed to operate largely by habit. By not having to waste much thought on familiar processes, our brains are freed up to respond more efficiently to unfamiliar issues that arise. This habit loop is a crucial aspect of how our brains work and process data without burning out. The part of the brain responsible for recall ("I have the baby with me today") is switched off, while we operate on the part of the brain that runs on habit (like a typical commute).

For instance, the first time you back out of your driveway in a new vehicle, it will take all of your concentration and focus. By the time you have done it for months, you never even give it a single thought. Your habit loop takes over the minute you start the engine, and you can back out of the driveway and go clear across town on a familiar drive (such as a commute) without having any recollection of it or any of the details surrounding it. This is the same reason why you might ask your husband to stop at the store on the way home from work, and he completely forgets until he walks in the front door and is reminded the moment he sees you. He knew he wanted to stop at the store, but habit took over and he followed his usual routine.

Tragedy strikes when there is a perfect storm - a change in routine (such as Dad taking the baby when he doesn't usually do so), while there are other stress factors that occupy the active part of his brain (an important business call, stress at work, etc.), and all reminders fall through. He KNOWS that he is supposed to drop the baby off at day care that day because mom can't do it, but the minute he sits down in the driver seat, his brain goes on autopilot. Unless the baby cries or in some other way reminds him that she is there, he might forget about her, and tragedy ensues. 

I have personally known and heard of great parents who have forgotten their child in a car briefly and thankfully without suffering harm. It seems that almost every time I talk about this topic with parents, they suddenly recall a time they almost forgot their child in the car. It has nothing to do with what kind of a parent they are. It's simply a terrible error stemming from the way the human brain works. An attitude of "That could never happen to me!" is a very dangerous one to have. 

To be forewarned is to be forearmed. Some safety protocols that help prevent a tragedy are:

- Make a habit of visually checking every car seat, every time before closing the car doors. 

- Teach your older children to make a habit of checking for siblings in their rows before exiting the vehicle. Teach them to be extra vigilant when they are in the care of someone besides their main care giver.

- When traveling with just a baby, leave your purse/briefcase in the back by their car seat, and leave an item of the baby (like a blanket) in the spot you normally keep your purse. When you get to where you are going, this will jog your memory if necessary. It is not recommended to have a permanent reminder up front near the driver, such as a decal hanging from the mirror, because it will soon become so familiar that it will become part of the habit to see it, making it ineffective. 

- If your child goes to daycare, have a plan that they call you if your child does not show up on a day that they are expected. 

- Don't be afraid to call/text and check in with any non-regular care giver. 

Some other excellent resources are Kids and Cars and Their websites have a lot of great information and helpful articles. If you like their Facebook page, you will get plenty of reminders in your newsfeed to keep the safety of children around cars at the forefront of your mind. This article has some insightful stats. The book "The Power of Habit" has a whole chapter dedicated to this topic, and explains the underlying science well. It is a great read, I highly recommend it!

Parents whose children died in a hot car already have their lives destroyed by guilt. Let's not compound it, and let's not fool ourselves into thinking it could never happen to us. I doubt there is a parent who could honestly claim that in all their years of raising a child, there was never a situation that could have turned out far worse if it were not for the grace of God. Remember: There but for the grace of God go I (and you).

Friday, August 5, 2016

Chloe overload

Here, in no particular order, are entirely too many pictures of little Chloe. Unless you are me. In that case, this is far too few pictures of this beautiful young sweetie.

 This first one was one of many snapped by Miriam. She is getting really good at using my camera.

Miriam is also quite the little mommy. She LOVES her baby sister to pieces. All the kids are sweet on her - the two little boys and Anna (who are not allowed to pick Chloe up yet) are forever in her face and kissing her, and Becky is always competing with Miriam over getting to hold the baby. The big boys will take a turn with her every day. But Miriam is just ready all day, every day to pounce on any opportunity to grab her baby sister and play with her. It's a blessing, to be sure!

I don't have a pram, though I sure wish they were sold here. Miriam has one for her doll, and uses it for Chloe. They both love it!

 Doesn't she look like a doll??

Chloe just now tips the scale at 10 lbs, which is great growth considering she was born 6 lbs 15 oz just eleven weeks ago, but still puts her in the "small baby" category. She has been smiling off and on since birth, but now does it so reliably I can actually get pictures of it. 

 Isn't she beautiful? Her eyes match that dress perfectly.

  Chloe is a little thumb sucker, and is also one to take a pacifier. 


Our faithful sofa is like an old dog - scraggly, but precious because of the memories we have made together. Here it is getting more baby love.

 Miriam loves to dress herself and Chloe in color-coordinating clothes.  

My husband and I went on a date this week to buy a gift for a new baby in church, and I found a tiny dress in Chloe's size that is made of the exact blue floral fabric as the dress Miriam got for Easter. She was SO thrilled when she saw it, and can hardly wait to wear it this Sunday.

As the old proverb goes, "There is only one cute baby, and every mother has it." 

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Homeschool Tips: The First Day of School

Yesterday marked our first day of school. This year, I added a new K4 student (Stephen), which makes for a total of 7 students in as many grades (11th, 9th, 7th, 5th, 3rd, 1st, K4). This is a new record for our family, and a landmark because it also means we have reached critical mass in our homeschooling. By the time our next youngest child is old enough to "start school," Solomon will (Lord willing) have graduated High School. Unless we have multiples in our future, I will never have more than 7 home educated students at one time. It's all downhill from here!

Our first day of school yesterday was mundane and lacking any special excitement or hubbub. This might sound terrible, but it was actually wonderfully relaxing and blissful, which is not how I would describe "First Day of School" in my early years of homeschooling. 

You see, at this point, home education has become a way of life for us that is woven into everyday life. While I do have each child in a set grade, and while I have lesson plans that outline how much work needs to be done by the end of any given week, I have learned not to be rigid when it comes to the nitty-gritty. A master schedule can quickly become just a master, which is frustrating and angering when there are so many things we juggle all day long that could cause an unscheduled interruption. Nobody needs to compound their work being needlessly frustrated by a self-appointed task master!

The easiest way I can illustrate this is with running errands. Every homemaker has a certain amount of errands that will take her out of the house. On average, I guess we all leave the home on as many days as we do not. This compares well to a school year of 180 days of instruction. None of us get up at the beginning of the year to celebrate the first day of running errands, which will be followed by 179 more days like it before the end of the year. We all understand that a certain amount of errands must and will get done every week, but just when they get done will have to follow a lose pattern (for example, buying produce from a co-op on Saturday mornings), while still allowing room for flexibility. If the baby is teething on the usual day for grocery shopping, maybe the trip can be put off until the next day, combined with another errand later in the week, or maybe Dad will run it instead. Getting things done, but being flexible. Being fluid and keeping the flow going, rather than derailing the train every time there is a major curve-ball.

In much the same way, we get our school work done each week. But if Monday is the first beautiful day in a while for playing outside, we might go to the zoo instead of doing bookwork. If I need help with chores or the baby or volunteer work for church, one of the older kids will be called in from his books to do so. We did not reject institutionalized learning for our kids to then have a "play school" at home that enforces a set time frame on us.

If we understand that learning  is not limited to ages 6-18, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., and does not need to be blocked off from real life (which consists of mostly work and some play), and that rather than having a rigidly enforced time of homeschooling we instead learn while living our lives, when it best suits any given day and its circumstances, we are well on the way to raising life-long learners who are always developing new skills woven into everyday life. 

So yes, while we did officially start on our new books yesterday, the day was very much like every other day - we each did our work side by side, learning one set of new skills or facts versus other things on other days. We did not take special pictures because we take pictures year round when the opportunity arises. We did not start with any special fanfare because it was not advisable for us during this stage of life, which is very busy and in which I cannot afford to have high demands on myself and then get frustrated when I don't always throw a pinterest-worthy party, don't always take cool pictures, don't always play the perfect homemaker, teacher, wife, mother. 

I am not at all criticizing those who have the time and mental energy to make the first day of the school year extra special. I did the same for many years. I am simply encouraging moms to take the pressure off themselves, and to relax the demands they make on themselves if they are leading to frustration and burnout. Motherhood is a long-distance ultramarathon, not a sprint. Slow down and walk, it will help you do better in the long run. By relaxing and realizing things will get done if you we keep faithfully plugging away and doing our best, more will end up getting done because feeling overwhelmed and frustrated is a huge de-motivator. 

Happy (Don't Go) Back to School, everyone! :)

Click here for more Homeschooling Tips

Monday, August 1, 2016

Q & A: Young mom of many kids struggling with doing it all

Hi Zsuzsanna,

Could you please please please include in your homeschooling series how you schedule other things into your day? Like cooking and cleaning? What are your priorities? How do actually do all this? What kind of meals do you make or when in the day do you cook? 

I am pregnant with my fifth and will have five under five next year. I have started homeschooling and am overwhelmed.

Right now I have two children in nappies that need changing, one has spilled milk on their church clothes, breakfast plates are everywhere (they are eating as I type this), crumbs are everywhere, the dishwasher is unstacked, lunch hasn't been organised (God knows what we're eating after morning service, that's if I even get there since their church clothes need changing again), laundry hasn't been put away. My floors are grimy, the toilet needs cleaning etc.

My kindy student is getting an education alright, but at the expense of other things...e.g. meals made from scratch, porridge for dinner etc

The only reason why I'm online right now is so I can type this comment, and see if anyone else out there is struggling too.

If you have addressed this could you please provide a link?

Any tips would be greatly appreciated.

Dear Emmy,

I really feel for you as you go through this difficult season. When my oldest was five, I only had three kids, and that was plenty hard.

 My words of advice are:

- Don't do it all. Many things have to be neglected, the tricky part is knowing what to neglect. I read in a book that there are four categories of things competing for our attention: 
urgent and important, 
urgent but not important, 
not urgent but important, 
not urgent and not important. 
We are all great at tending to the urgent and important (like  a diaper blowout), but many of us tend to respond to urgent but unimportant (like a social phone call) before tending to the not urgent but important (like brushing your children's teeth). By doing so, the non-urgent but important issues pretty soon become urgent and important, but we could save ourselves a lot of time and trouble by addressing them before they become urgent. Always choose non-urgent but important over urgent but non-important. Does that make sense? Also, some chores are better neglected than others, because they don't compound while undone. For example, a floor that hasn't been mopped for two weeks still takes just as long to mop as if you did it every day. Laundry neglected for two weeks - not so much! Neglect the forgiving chores first.

- Simplify your life as much as you can. To simplify meal planning and cooking, make a list of the most common meals your family likes, and stick it to the fridge for when you are out of ideas. Have a list of simple meals that can be thrown together with staples you always keep on hand. Planning like this requires an initial investment of time, but it will pay off in the future (falling into the important but not urgent category). Use a slow cooker that you can get going in the morning and have dinner ready at night, freeing up your afternoon for errands or other outings. Cook a double batch for dinner and use the leftovers for lunch the next day (I have been doing this for years). Nothing wrong with simple meals. Porridge is fine for dinner for the kids, and if your husband minds you could just make a big meal a couple of times per week and serve that to him at dinnertime over several days. Have paper dishes and cups on hand for busy days, and use them. Other ways to simplify are to radically pare down the kids' toys (less messes and helps them be more creative with what they have), cut out outside obligations/voluteering, use the easiest possible curriculum that requires the least input from you, etc. At this stage of homeschooling, you could really just get by with teaching your oldest to read while sitting on the sofa feeding the baby, reading lots of books with him, involving him in the housework/cooking/childcare, and letting him observe and explore the natural world in the yard or a park. Basically, go into survival mode and become a minimalist. It is very freeing, and you'll find that you will get more done because you are not demotivated before your day even starts.

- Enlist the help of others. Maybe there is a single or childless lady in your church or social circle who would love to come over and help out (for free, but she'd gain much experience). Maybe an older lady might enjoy helping you with laundry or cleaning every week. Maybe your husband or a grandparent can make a set time each week when they take all the kids off your hands - my husband does this every Tuesday morning and it makes such a huge difference! Don't be shy about asking others for help. If your finances allow, you could hire someone to come and clean, but I realize this is not an option for most of us.

- Get a head start. Whenever possible, get up before your family does, get dressed, read your Bible, and plan the day ahead. Ever minute you can get on your own without interruptions is worth 10 minutes later in your day.  Life goes through stages and this is not always possible, especially when pregnant, but this is a great sanity saver when you can take advantage of it.

- Have a pattern for your day. I shy away from minute-by-minute schedules because they can quickly lead to frustration when something unexpected happens and you get behind. I have certain anchor points in my day, such as ready for the day by 9 a.m., lunch around noon and naps by 1 p.m., dinner at 5:30 and bed by 7 to 9 (depending on the ages). I have certain days set aside for errands and outings. but I generally avoid shopping after nap time or on the weekends because stores are busy and tempers run high, making everything take longer. To read my previous posts on scheduling, please click here.

- Enforce naps and bed times. Naps are moms' link to sanity. By having these times to count on and yes, look forward to, you will make it through the stickiest moments in your day. In our house, all kids age 5 and under take a midday nap. I learned this from my Grandma who raised six kids, and my mom who had five. Sure, there are those kids who will fight sleep, but remember, sleep begets sleep. And while you cannot force someone to fall asleep, they can be made to lie still, close their eyes, and not get up - which is just as good as sleep itself, and often makes them fall asleep in the process. The earlier they go to bed, the later they wake up the next day, no joke. If you have really early sunrises in the summer, hang a blanket over their window to block the light at 5 a.m. Never wake a sleeping child unless a foreign army is marching toward you, your house is about to be struck by a hurricane, or you are in some other deadly peril.

- Breastfeed. I say this with some reservations, as I certainly don't want to make anyone feel bad who cannot nurse their child, nor am I implying that your kids are not a blessing. My point is that by exclusively breastfeeding your children without a schedule and without stuffing them under a hot blanket, your hormones would prevent you from becoming pregnant so close together, which of course makes your workload a lot harder and is a major drain on your body.  On the flip side, remember that when your kids get old enough to really help out around the house, you will go from no help to having a whole team of helpers virtually overnight :)

- Take care of yourself and your marriage. I realize this can be hard to accomplish. Much of your down time will have to happen while you do other things, such as reading while feeding the baby, running errands without kids, browsing FB after the kids are in bed while you make breakfast for the next day, and such like. If everything hits the fan at once, secure the kids in a safe spot where they cannot hurt themselves or each other, and do what you need to do. Don't hold off on using the bathroom, brushing your teeth, taking your vitamins, or doing some other little thing that doesn't take long but will nag away at you subconsciously if neglected. Invest time and effort in your marriage, and realize the best gift you can give your children is happily married parents.

- Be realistic. This is just a phase. They are just kids. This too shall pass. Try to see the humor in things. Realize messes matter little in the scope of things, but how you react to obstacles will shape your little people for a lifetime. Do your best and leave God to take care of the rest.

Readers, if you have more advice, please share it in the comments below.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Words are powerful

I often get asked, "What do you call your husband at home?"

Obviously, I call him by his first name, Steve. But at church, or when talking to church members and others who only know him as a pastor, I always refer to him as "Pastor Anderson." Even when directly addressing him, I avoid calling him by his first name when others can hear. We have been in the ministry long enough to know that people who are too chummy with the pastor quickly become disrespectful and treat him as a buddy, not an elder as the Bible admonishes. This attitude then spreads like a wildfire.

I would no more talk about "Steve" to another church member than I would call him that to the kids when speaking about their dad, as in: "Please take this to Dad," and not "Give this to Steve". Married couples who refer to the other parent by their first name to the kids  show great disregard for the that parent's status of being an authority figure to the children, and not their co-equal. It is a passive aggressive way to show disrespect, and one the kids are certain to pick up on and perpetuate. These couples always have troubled marriages because they fail to appropriately honor the other out of a false sense of pride. A good wife who is interested in seeing her husband honored and succeeding will always strive to build him up in the estimation of others, and should never intentionally try to "take him down a notch", especially so publicly or to the children. 

In much the same manner, those who are legitimately on a first-name basis with the pastor but refuse to address him with his title of honor to those who only know him as that, do so out of pride, as well as a show-boating of the fact that they are in the pastor's inner circle. It doesn't get any closer than being married to the pastor, but I don't feel the need to rub that in to give myself more clout. 

I am thankful that when my husband first expressed his desire to be a pastor someday to our pastor at that time, the pastor's wife impressed the importance of this concept on me. In turn, I have tried to teach this to the wives of pastors we have sent out. My husband and I are both on a first-name basis with several pastors, but only ever address them as "Pastor so-and-so" publicly.

On my blog, which is read both by people who know him as Pastor Anderson as well as personal friends and family who know him as Steve, I avoid having to choose either by only ever referring to him as "my husband" which is neither awkward nor disrespectful. 

The words we use reveal much about ourselves and issues we struggle with, such as humility and showing honor to whom honor is due. 

Surprise Birthday Party

My husband and our seventh child were born on the same day, 31 years apart, which is why Stephen is named after his Dad. This year, their birthday happened to fall on Sunday, so with the help of many others in our church, we threw a surprise birthday party in my husband's honor.

Being married to a pastor, I can tell you that they work a lot more, longer, and harder than anyone would ever suspect. It's a lot like parenting - juggling hundreds of things all of the time, with rarely a break ever. When it's not one thing, it's another. And just like parenting, the benefits of investing in the lives of others, seeing them grow and mature (spiritually) makes it all worthwhile and enjoyable. I know my husband considers it a great privilege to be able to serve God in his capacity as pastor, but I also know how hard he works and wanted to acknowledge that on his birthday. 

We set a new Sunday morning attendance record of 295, which of course is always exciting. After the service, the men quickly turned the auditorium into a fellowship hall with tables and chairs, where we all enjoyed a wonderful meal together. 

A man in our church had a house-warming party last year to which we were invited. He served pork that had been slowly smoked all night in a fire pit he built. My husband absolutely loved that meat, so I approached this gentleman and asked him if he could make enough of this meat to feed 300 people. Thankfully, he said yes, even though I know it was a ton of work for him. He had to build a much bigger fire pit to fit three whole pigs, and tend the coals constantly for 24 hours, even during the night, while temperatures outside were in the mid 110s. His efforts really paid off though, because the meat was just superb, and my husband was very happily surprised by such a royal meal.

 "Stretcher coming through!"

 The master chef with one of his victims

 He's a nurse in real life, so that probably came in handy. Or maybe (hopefully?) not. 

 The taste test

 Passed with flying colors!

 The rest of our table hadn't been called to one of the buffet lines yet.

My husband was just thrilled with everyone being in church and then having a meal together, but he also received many gifts, all of which he loved and very much appreciated. One of his gifts was this award for being an SPLC-certified hate group ;-)

The kids in church also made him a super-awesome candy-gram.


There was a photo booth for the kids, cotton candy, birthday cake and desserts, and lots of other fun that day. Thank you so much to all who helped make this day possible!

Look at Boaz, the little man! I will have to keep my eyes on him!

35 candles - and he blew them out in one go!

I will blog about our family birthday celebration at home another time.