Gratituesday: Swimming Season is Over – How I’m Coping

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We have friends who have a beautiful swimming pool in their back yard.  For three years now, they have been so sweet to let our family come enjoy the pool.  Here’s a picture from three summers ago.  The boys were so timid in the water then…

Now?  They are all over the pool – diving, having contests, and playing swimming games.  It’s awesome to watch.  We’ve been away from home most of this summer, so we haven’t had as much pool time as we would have liked.  Now that we’re home and settled into some sort of routine, we’ve gone swimming every chance we could grab.  It’s been great motivation to get our schoolwork done each day.  Ahhh, a fantastic, refreshing reward for hard work - and P.E. at it’s finest.  :)

I love sunshine, heat, Vitamin D, and pool exercise.  But alas, all good things must come to an end, at least for a time.  Tis the time of year for our friends to shut their pool down for the season.  This week we’re experiencing cooler weather – and by cooler, I mean that temps are what most people consider perfect.  Mid to upper 70′s.  Who doesn’t love that?  (me, maybe?)  I do - really I do.  This weather is gorgeous.  I just like 90° best - because I do.  ;)

Recognizing that swimming just wasn’t going to happen today, or tomorrow, or again probably until next summer – and because our house was actually a bit chilly (who knew?) I coped the only way I knew how.  I baked. 

I love everything about summer (like, I crazy love it) – but I do miss baking.  So yay for chillier weather (she said with a half-smile and a shrug).  Today I got to bake!

Malachi and I had fun making Chocolate Graham Crackers.  I’ve been pretty intentional the past few weeks about teaching him cooking skills.  He did most of the mixing and measuring himself, then decided that shaping crackers with cookie cutters would be way more fun than simply cutting them into squares.  But of course.

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Eek, a few got overdone.  My apologies to the blackened bunnies.  We will eat you anyway.

Justus and I made a double batch of Dark Chocolate Almond Granola.  This is so great to have on hand for quick breakfasts and snacks.  The house smelled so good while this was baking!

Dark Chocolate Almond Granola - A Great Make-Ahead Meal

Summer’s not over yet and you can bet I’ll be soaking up as much sunshine as I can during the next few weeks before…oh, I can’t even say it.  La, la, la, I am in denial in my happy, warm place - and that is where I shall stay for now.  But yay for all the blessings (like baking!) that come with the change of seasons.  I love how God shows us His goodness through everything.

And now I want to hear from YOU.  Tell me how you are, how God is working in your life, and what you are thankful for.  Go!

Malachi’s Lego Party On the Cheap

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Malachi has been planning and dreaming of a Lego party with his friends for no less than two years now.  We didn’t schedule it in though, because I figure, why act in haste?  Also, there is the fact that planning and throwing parties is really not my gift and I very much do not enjoy it.  As a result, every few hours during the past 730 days, Malachi would throw out a new Lego party idea to which I would respond with a look on my face as if he had just suggested we go lick the spoons of people who were currently running high fevers.

Poor kid.  Such great ideas.  Such a boring, non-party type mom.  714 days after Malachi’s party planning brainstorming began, I finally got over myself.  He and I sat down, looked on Pinterest, found some fun ideas, and got to work.  Surely there would be a way to make a Lego party fun, but keep it simple and inexpensive.  Yes, indeed.  (For the record, there are also many ways to make it complicated, elaborate, and spendy – just in case you feel like the 8 and 9 year old boys in your life will appreciate all the time you spent coloring individual, personalized placemats and notice all the tiny details on a cake which you have carved and decorated into a replica of a life-size Lego spaceship.)

One of Malachi’s biggest desires for his party was that we have a piñata.  We agreed to fill the piñata with some of the Legos from his collection that could be played with together once the piñata broke open.  Cost?  Free.  (Okay fine.  Already paid for.)  We also agreed that it was a wise idea to put the Lego pieces into a ziplock bag so that they wouldn’t fly all over the yard with the final blow of the piñata.

Did you know that it’s very possible to make a Lego-looking piñata out of one shoe box, 8 bottle lids, and three pieces of tissue paper?  Malachi decided I was a genius for thinking of this.  I had to agree (with great humility.)

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Who doesn’t love putting on a blind fold and swinging at air?  Every boy got exactly two turns each, and then…

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…the rope I had strung through it popped out and the piñata flew into the grass.  Did you know that if you blind fold a child, give him a wooden sword, and set him lose in the yard, he will eventually make his way to said piñata and give it a whack?  We thought that was perhaps a better plan that having Asa hold the piñata in the air while the kids swung the sword.  (You’re welcome, Asa.)

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We spent a few dollars on colored sacks, cups, and plates.  My artistic ability is very limited, but drawing Lego people faces on cups I managed to pull off well enough.

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I am well aware that little boys at parties are not super interested in “come on to the table, children, and let’s make a craft!”  Still – Malachi and I thought it would be fun for everyone to make a personalized container for their Lego projects at home.  94¢ per container, plus some stickers and contact paper?  No problem.

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The boys had lots of fun and turned out great Lego storage containers.  I’m very sure that now that they have these, they will each and every one do a very good job picking up all of their Legos after working on a project so no one in their households will ever step on a Lego.  Again.  Ever.

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Party food included popcorn served out of a very thoroughly washed Lego bucket, and pieces of pizza that tried very hard to look like 1 by 2 Lego blocks.

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See the jar full of Legos below?  Each kid wrote down guesses as to how many Legos he thought filled the jar.  The boy who guessed the closest got to take the first swing at the piñata.  In case you ever need to know the following recipe conversion:  128 Legos equals 1 quart.

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And possibly my favorite free game/activity:  Malachi gathered all of the pieces of two small Lego sets.  He divided them evenly into 10 plastic eggs.  Our older boys hid the eggs around the yard, then the party goers got to enjoy participating in a L-egg-o Hunt.  It was super fun!  Once all the L-egg-o’s had been found, the boys worked together to put the sets together.

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Malachi was flying high the entire week.  Planning, creating, and executing the party was so much fun for him.  I’m so thankful we were able to do this together. Maybe I shouldn’t wait so many hundreds of days next time to work with him on a fun project like this?

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But wouldn’t you know it.  Our party guests had been gone precisely 3.75 minutes when Malachi, gleam in his eye, asked, “So when should we have the next Lego party?”

Share what you’re grateful for this Gratituesday!

Gratituesday: I Don’t Know Where I’m Going!

I walked down the aisle 20 years ago this week.  Twenty years!!!!  I’m not sure where the last two decades have gone, but 4 kids and many other life changes later – here we are.

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We’re not much into gift-giving, and typically, we only quietly slip away for a lunch or dinner out together to celebrate our special day.  But this year is different.  Since it’s our 20th anniversary, Matt decided to plan something special.

What has he planned? Well, I have no idea.  I was given a specific list of items to pack and a departure time for a get-away.  Other than that, I don’t know a thing about our plans.  How fun is that?

We’ll be leaving a long list of school assignments and household chores for our boys.  They’ll be all set up with easy-to-make foods.  We have a recent college graduate living at our house for several months, so we’re leaving him in charge of overseeing our kids and making sure they get their school work and chores done both days that we’re gone.

Everyone is sure to have a great time!  I’m excited for a little get-away with Matt…and as soon as I find out where we’re going, you’ll be the first to know.  (AFTER we get back.)  :)

What are you thankful for this week?  Leave a comment to share how God is working in your life!

Gratituesday: Cherish the Moments. No, Seriously.

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Our family tradition started back in 2008 when the boys were all just little guys.  We’d make a list, walk the aisles of school supplies, and pick up crayons, markers, glue sticks, and paints.  We’d celebrate the upcoming school year by going out to lunch after our school supply shopping.  Year after year, we continued the tradition.

Would you look at these sweet young things?  The boys were 3, 6, 8, and 11 then.

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Now, at the beginning of our 2014-2015 school year, I asked the boys if they’d mind doing this for me one more time.  After all, it’s the beginning of Asa’s senior year.  Who cares that we didn’t need one measly school supply this year?  It’s been tradition for seven years in a row.  I needed this picture.

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Thirteen years.  That’s how long we’ve been homeschooling.  Through the nursing baby years, the toddlers crawling all over our school books years, the learning to read years, the never can find a sharpened pencil years - we survived.

We are now in the algebra years, the reading novels and learning foreign languages years, the prep for the ACT years, and the what should I do after graduation years.  I do not know how we got here.  When did C.S. Lewis replace Curious George?  How did simple addition turn into roman numerals turn into geometry theorems?  How did my babies grow taller than me and become the ones who teach me how to use new software on the computer?

How I used to roll my eyes at the people who told me to “enjoy my boys while they are young because they grow up so fast.”  Yeah, yeah, I know.  Enjoy them and embrace this and cherish it all  blah, blah, blah because someday they’ll be grown up and I’ll miss those little years full of smeared snot and poop accidents and grocery cart tantrums.

The little years were long and hard and the snot and poop were ever-present and not something I wanted to document in the baby book.  I was cherishing and embracing, but you better believe I also moved mountains so that I could take an occasional trip by myself to the grocery store – where for thirty blissful minutes nobody needed me or pulled on my leg.

That was all good.  It’s okay that I found refreshment in the little slice of heaven that occurred while I waited to sack my groceries.  Raising babies and toddlers and preschoolers is incredibly difficult and without a doubt, sometimes it is just plain hard to embrace and cherish each moment.  Praise God for all the cute stuff that counteracts all the teething and tantrums.  Praise God for nap time.  Praise God for sticky kisses and grimy hugs and unconditional love from smiling baby faces.

It seems that I may have just thrown myself over into the other camp.  I am now that lady – the one who will tell you to enjoy them while they’re young.  (I totally give you permission to hate the poop accidents though.)

Those people – the ones that tell you how fast your kids will be all grown up?  They weren’t even kidding.  They were right – and if I was annoyed with them for saying it when my kids were little, now I’m just mad.  How dare they be right?  How is it that they said I would blink and they’d be grown?  They really meant it, and it really is true.  Somebody put on the brakes.  This has gone entirely too fast.

As our oldest son begins his senior year, I’ve learned anew what it means to cherish the moments.  This year is filled with a lot of “lasts.”  Oh but praise God – this is also the beginning of a lot of “firsts.”  Life doesn’t end as our kids grow older and launch the nest – but you’d better believe even the small and normal moments of life are a treasure to me like they never have been before.

We still have several years of parenting and schooling and guiding our kids along.  But the beginning of this school year signifies big changes for our family in the upcoming years.  What a story we’ll have to tell as we continue to experience God’s work in our lives.

You’d better believe – I’ll be cherishing this time for all its worth.

Please leave a comment to share what you’re grateful for this Gratituesday!

Gratituesday: Sister Symposium

I grew up without any sisters.  Matt’s sister grew up without any sisters.  Matt’s brother’s wife grew up without any sisters.  Now that we are all married and a part of the same family?  We all have each other.  As much as we love our brothers, having sisters in our adult lives has been such a special blessing.

Perhaps the biggest blessing of all is that we all love being together.  Not all sisters-in-law are able to enjoy this, and the three of us don’t take it for granted.

This is a picture of us two years ago when we got together for our bi-yearly “Sister Symposium.”

Since they both live in California, I’m the only one who has to travel far.  Therefore, they are kind enough to share my airplane ticket expense to make this get-together possible.  We save more expense by staying in one of their homes so we don’t have to pay lodging.

What do we do during the 2-3 days we’re together?  We talk, and talk, and talk.  We shop (oh yeah!).  We eat out.  We go to the beach (this Nebraska girl’s favorite place to visit!).  And we pray together: for our husbands, for our children, for our parents, for each other.

With our lives all so full and busy with working and raising families, it keeps getting harder and harder to get away and find time to spend together like this.  But never once have we regretted the effort it has taken.  Our time together as sisters is always rich.  This week is no different.

I’m so grateful to be spending time with my sisters this week.  What are you thankful for?

Gratituesday: Dusting Off the School Books

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With all the craziness of our summer, I’ve had very little time to get our upcoming school year organized.  The good news?  This will be our 13th year of homeschooling.  (Whoa.)  I hardly had to order any books at all.  (Praise God for money we didn’t have to spend this year!)  Once I could finally block out several hours of time, I buried myself in our school room, unpacked all the books, and found everything I needed for the year.  (Along with way too much dust.)

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We have been digging deep in World History and the Eastern Hemisphere the past few years, as well as learning about missionaries who have served all over the world.  So this year?  We’ll be hitting American History pretty hard.  I’m super excited.  But let me just pause right here to say:

This year, we will have two boys in high school.  Two.  And Asa, our oldest?  He’s going to be a senior.  A senior.  I don’t know how we got here so quickly.  But I do know that it has been one very enjoyable ride.  Never let anyone tell you that it’s too difficult to homeschool all the way through high school.  (You should see all the resources available now.)  These years learning, growing, and memory making with our boys have been invaluable and precious.

So Asa, our high school senior (if I keep saying it, will reality set in?) has worked hard and all but completed all of his high school requirements for graduation.  He already began taking some college classes last year.  This year he will be taking one more class per semester at our local college and several online classes through a community college.  This will get many of his gen-eds out of the way, while saving lots of money, and racking up quite a few college credits.  He’ll also be taking Spanish 4 at home with Rosetta Stone software, doing some ACT prep, and continuing to develop his skills with videography and movie creation.

Justus will be a freshman.  He’ll be finishing the last few CDs in Teaching Textbooks Algebra 1, then start Algebra 2.  He’ll study Physical Science with Apologia and continue with his Spanish lessons (Rosetta Stone rocks).  He’ll work through several English/Grammar/Analogies books, do lots of reading, study American History, and do a smattering of electives like music, P.E., and creative arts.  He’s going to start taking guitar lessons in the fall, which he is very excited about!

Elias will be a 7th grader.  Along with American history studies, he’s doing Pre-Algebra with Teaching Textbooks, Spanish with Rosetta Stone, Wordly Wise, grammar, reading and writing assignments, and a variety of science books from our big stash.  He is interested in taking drum lessons – if we can find him a teacher.  And some drums.

Malachi will be a 4th grader.  He’s really taking off with chapter books now, so his shelf (along with his brothers’ shelves) are full of great reading material that enhances our study of American History.  We’ll be going through Grammar Ace with him, as well as having him work through MCP Phonics at his level.  He’ll be journal writing, learning cursive with Getty-Dubay, working through a stack of science books, and doing Teaching Textbooks 4 for math.  He’s also going to work through my Learn to Cook book so that he can learn more basic cooking skills.  We’ve got him all set up to start piano lessons this fall too.  He can’t wait!

Sonlight has been our main curriculum of choice through the years – and I continue to use many of the books they recommend.  Learning through literature is awesome!  Instead of pulling all the books they recommend at every single grade level, I’ve found that it is simple to use their book recommendations and combine grade levels while we study history, geography, and science.  This saves my sanity, and gives us wonderful times of learning all together.  All the subjects will be revisited through the years anyway, so what the younger kids don’t catch the first time around, they’ll catch it when we study it in later grades.  This works great for us.

So there you have it.  The books are finally organized, and I can head out of town again knowing school will be ready for us to start when I get back.  Two weeks until we kick off our school year!  I praise God for this wonderful opportunity to study and learn with my kids.

What are you focusing on right now?  Where is your gratitude focus?  I’d love for you to leave a comment sharing what you’re thankful for this Gratituesday!

Gratituesday: My One Defense

Hello from camp, again.  :)  This week, Matt and I are teaching Bible classes each day to senior high campers.  We love these kids!

My internet time is limited, so for Gratituesday today I wanted to share one of my favorite songs.  I love worshiping along with this song:

I’d love to hear what you’re thankful for this week.  Leave a comment and share!

Gratituesday: My “New” Office

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Want to see my desk?  Think twice before you answer that.  It’s not nearly as exciting as you might think.  Plus is likely much messier than you imagined it to be.

See, for years now, my “desk” has been a card table, topped with a tablecloth since the top of the table was all torn up.  Am I professional or what?  It worked to hold my computer…and as you can see from the scary picture below, it also held piles of messy paperwork.

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The piles of papers and notebooks were kinda, sorta organized.  But woe to the person who put a non-heavenlyhomemaker piece of paper down on my desk.  It would quickly get buried and lost in my mess.

Finally, a few weeks ago, Matt suggested it was time to get me a real desk.  Not only would that be much more practical for my work, it would free up our card table to be used for gaming and to fold laundry in the upstairs hallway.  Sounded good to me!

Ladies and…well, are there any gentlemen reading this?  Introducing my new work space:

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It’s just a simple black desk, but it has a drawer and a cabinet to house my junk files and paperwork.  You’ll notice that my desk is placed right in front of a closet door.  Who does that?  Yeah, we do.  It’s the only placement option in our guest room/office right now.  Someday maybe we’ll rearrange, but we rarely use that closet, so for now it works.

How long until this desk is covered with papers?  Here’s hoping I’ll keep it under control for at least a few days.  :)

This Gratituesday, I’m thankful for my office upgrade.  What are you thankful for?

Gratituesday: Everything But Raspberries

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You know how I mentioned that we’d been traveling and that my body is craving fruits and vegetables?  And you know how I mentioned that I was really, really hungry for raspberries?  Try as I might, I can’t find one decent raspberry in all of York, Nebraska.

Correction:  I can find a decent raspberry.  But they are either in a package that also contains moldy raspberries, or they are in a teeny-tiny container that costs $3.48.  As much as I’m craving raspberries - for that price, I just can’t do it.

Elias (our 12 year old) and I drove to our two grocery stores today, after striking out at Wal-Mart last night, on a mission to find raspberries.  I guess it just isn’t meant to be.  Maybe in a few days, after stores re-stock and sale prices re-set???

In the meantime, as the boys and I were unloading our other groceries and talking about all the goodies I bought yesterday on our way back into town, it occurred to me that while I don’t have any raspberries, I do have pretty much everything else delicious under the sun.  I shall whine no more.  We’ve found great deals on tons of summer produce, loaded up our kitchen once again with wonderful fruits and vegetables – and we are enjoying all kinds of deliciousness.  Everything but raspberries?  Well, I am just all kinds of blessed.

You can see all the yummy food I picked up last night in this post.  Now take a look at what Elias and I found this morning at a local grocery store:

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Grapes were on sale, plums were on sale, there were organic tomatoes and mushrooms to be had – and look at all those bags of frozen veggies!  Those babies were on sale for just 80¢ each!  We filled the cart…as you can see.  :)  100% juice was on sale, so we stocked up so that we can make fun popsicles the rest of the summer.  We grabbed sweet peppers and splurged on a loaf of bread so we could have an easy meal of sandwiches for lunch.  Everything but raspberries?  Blessed, blessed, blessed.

We got home from the store and set out this wonderful spread of food.  After traveling and eating fast food, I can’t begin to tell you how delicious this all tasted.

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Oh beautiful, colorful, delicious plate.  God is so good.

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What’s more?  For breakfast we had big bowls of berries with Chocolate Whipped Cream.  It was a perfect way to begin our day.

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Well, I actually started my day with an awesome cup of coffee, too.  :)  Asa brought back a bag of coffee for me from Ecuador.  Oh my goodness: best coffee EVER.

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This afternoon, Matt went to the garden and brought in a plate full of awesome lettuce.  Remember how I shared that a big hail storm took out our garden a few weeks ago?  Many of you suggested that it might perk back up.  You were right!  Much of our garden has bounced back.  We are so thankful!

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This afternoon, I enjoyed a generous serving of Chocolate Whipped Cream in a cup of coffee.  Happiness in a mug, I tell ya.

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Before dinner, we were “too hungry to wait.”  Therefore, we sliced up a couple of peaches before I cooked dinner.  These were the first peaches of the season we’ve had.  Ahhhhmazing.  Obviously, two was not enough so I had to slice up more. :)

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We thoroughly enjoyed the lettuce from our garden with our dinner of Pasta Alfredo with steamed veggies tonight.

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So what’s all this about wanting raspberries?  We are so blessed with an abundance of delicious foods that I have absolutely nothing to complain about and absolutely everything to be thankful for.  I’m sure I’ll find a nice package of raspberries for a decent price eventually.  Maybe I’ll even find some fresh berries at the farmer’s market this week.  But no matter.  Today, my table is overflowing with goodness.  I have everything I need and then some.

What are you thankful for?  Leave a comment to let us know something God has done for you recently!

Gratituesday: World Cup 2014

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With the exception of the fact that watching soccer games was a perfect Father’s Day gift for Matt, clearly, this week is not a good time for our family to enjoy the World Cup.  After all, we’re leaving on a long trip tomorrow.  As it turns out, we’ll miss several games while we’re on the road, plus we have a million things to do before we leave.  We have to finish packaging up container after container of vanilla to ship out…

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The older boys were at Soul Quest last week, which means there are several loads of laundry to finish up so we can pack.  Indeed, we have a huge, long to-do list.  World Cup soccer games???

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Yeah.  We’re making time.  It’s ridiculous really, how much our family loves soccer.  :)  We don’t have cable, so we’re having to go elsewhere to catch games.  (The college apartment lobby has been working quite well for us.)  It’s been a fun break in between all the work.  When possible, I’ve been throwing together quick meals like fruit and tuna salad to take with us and eat while we watch.

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Ah, family and futbol.  It’s too much fun.  Laundry, packing, cleaning, vanilla packaging, mowing, gardening, and all the rest?  Eh, we’ll get it done.  ;)

What would you like to share about this Gratituesday?  What are you thankful for?