Sunday, December 3, 2017

A Pantry Challenge

I am attempting to end the year with a pantry challenge. We have an abundance of extras in the house and need to budget for a new car for Alan so it seemed the perfect time. Even with 3 birthdays in December.

So we are heading into week 2 of our pantry challenge and I am hoping to keep it going through the new year. I will still plan to buy the special Christmas extras but I likely won't go searching for anything extra to add this year.  We have so much but it is easy to forget how blessed we are when stress starts getting to you. So I sat down and came up with a meal plan that takes us up to December 23. I'll reevaluate the freezers at that point and see how much further we want to go.

M: cranberry bread and fruit (B), chicken parmesan casserole (D)
T: Kieran's birthday, his choices include breakfast burritos, pizza pockets, and chicken enchiladas
W: St. Nicholas Day so breakfast will include a heavy dose of candy along with yogurt, granola, and apple butter (B), tacos (D)
T: breakfast casserole (B), BBQ chicken (D)
F: bagels, fruit (B), potato soup, rolls (D)
S: cereal (B), pizza (D)

So other than filling the kids up with loads of chocolate, what are your favorite ways to celebrate St. Nicholas Day?

Friday, December 1, 2017

When the Blogger Gets to Thinking

I've been doing a lot of thinking recently about what to do with this blog. At one point, I rather enjoyed sharing out life for those out of town. But it gets hard at times. Hard to balance sharing while respecting the privacy and space your kids need. Hard to deal with unrealistic expectations. Hard to find the right niche I guess.

When I go back and read what is written in the past, I see so very much hurt and anger. So much struggle. So much pain. Perhaps that is why I am struggling to jump off from there. I am not the person I was then and I'm not sure I feel like owning those words again.

Hoping to move forward in a more positive manner perhaps. I've seen other folks just delete everything and start over. Somehow that just does not feel right to me.

So while I continue to sort out my world, keep checking back every so often please.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

How to Plan for a Peaceful Advent

There seem to be two types of people out there when it comes to this holiday season: those who just love it and go into EVERYTHING with a gusto and those folks who just get overwhelmed and stressed by so many expectations and just so much to do. I'd say I fall into that second group.  A few years ago we had to learn by necessity how to slow down and create a more calm, restful holiday season after our sweet Isabel passed away. I'd been planning a bunch of activities to do with the kids once the baby arrived and I felt more normal again. Then our world came crashing down and my plans took an abrupt about face. Many changes were implemented and we haven't gone back to the old way. So here are some of our best suggestions for keeping the peace in your holiday plans.

First, give yourself permission to let go of any tradition, trip, gift, meal or trapping that does not add joy to your life. And I do mean anything. That fancy meal? That huge pile of cards? That trip to the relatives? Cookies for all the neighbors? You don't have to do any of it. I promise you that things will be ok if you just say no this year. Maybe you'll pick it back up again next year. Maybe you won't. The year Isabel died, we sent out a few Christmas cards. Each year I sent out fewer and fewer cards and the world kept turning. Yes, it means we get less cards ourselves but that really doesn't bug me. I love seeing pictures of friends and family members but I don't love feeling an obligation to DO something with those Christmas cards other than throwing them away.  We stopped visiting folks for the holiday way back when the older two were little. We realized very early on that we are just happier at home. Everyone can relax and be themselves. Plus Alan usually has to work anyway so we just embrace the holiday pay and stay home.

It's ok for that tree to go up late and for the decorations to be simple. This is where I admit that I do not do that whole nicely decorated house thing. Truthfully after years of always being told my homes looked awful for one reason or another, I gave up. I always felt too self conscious about it anyway so now we get out the advent wreath, put the tree up later in the season, get out the nativity set and pretty much call it good. If you love to decorate and it gives you joy, go for it. If it stresses you out, let it go.

Let go of the obligation to buy gifts you can't afford for folks. All I know is when my kids are grown and flown, the last thing I want them to do is go into debt buying gifts for us that they can't afford. So why do the same thing ourselves? Now I am not saying just drop out of all of your established gift giving with no notice. Give folks a heads up. They will understand. Perhaps you will free them up from buying another gift that they can't afford either. But don't turn the holiday season into the debt season. Your future and your children will thank you. I promise.

Pick a few simple traditions for your family to keep each year. And keep them low cost whenever possible. The traditions our family has stuck with our silly things, I'm sure. We usually have a cookie decorating party for their friends at some point in December. Meaning Alan makes a bunch of cookies, we throw some lunch in crock pots, invite friends over and the Moms talk while the kids eat all the sugar they can and play.  I will plan a hot chocolate party for our own kids one night. Usually we have a few different flavors of hot chocolate, a bunch of different toppings, and a movie. Super simple. Christmas Eve around here means opening the new pj's, having snack night, and watching the Muppets Christmas Carol. Christmas morning the kids get individual boxes of cereal and we head to morning Mass. Because I will admit I CANNOT stand the family Christmas Eve Masses and their chaos and I'm just not up to taking the littlest ones to midnight Mass.

We usually make our own Advent candles each year but I have a feeling that won't happen this year. One child has requested that we actually attempt to finish the Jesse Tree this year. Since the older kids have started working at a Christmas Tree farm, they insist we have a real tree now so the kids love going together to pick one out. They might have even made sure that the artificial tree was accidentally destroyed in a slightly malicious manner so that I have no choice but to consent to buying a real tree each year. But oh goodness, I don't like the mess from the real trees. Just do not like it. But I do this one for the family. I also acknowledge that it is more environmentally friendly and supports a local family and the local economy. But it does nothing for my mental health. Oiy.

But this is your permission to let go of anything that gives you stress. (Except that real tree if you have a family like mine.)  Embrace a slower pace and fewer obligations and maybe even a smaller budget. I've learned in talking to my own children that the things they remember most are almost always the small ones. The ones I thought were nothing. Turns out the small things truly are the big things. I think we adults tend to forget this simple truth in our quest for all things wonderful

Monday, September 4, 2017

Meal Plan Monday

It is time to get back into real meal planning. We have started school back up, activities are picking back up, and things are getting a little crazy schedule wise. Sticking to a meal plan and relying on easy meals right now as we adjust to a new schedule is a bit of a must.

M: eggs and potatoes (B), meatball subs (D)
T: frozen waffles and pancakes (B), chicken and rice (D)
W: oatmeal (B), pasta with meat sauce (D)
T: eggs and toast (B), pulled pork (D)
F: cereal (B), spicy beans and rice (D)

Two goals for this week food wise are to finish getting a few freezer meals put together and to finally figure out how the instapot works. I've had one sitting in our dining room for much longer than I care to admit but have not pulled out the directions yet. This week that will change.

I am also debating a few changes for lunches at home. That lunch break does not necessarily take too much time but it does make a huge mess every single day. This mess causes me to lose my sanity. Changes must be made to our routine to fix that situation.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Kids in the Kitchen

It is very important to teach your children how to cook. And let them get comfortable in the kitchen. The only problem with this is that it involves actually setting your kids lose in the kitchen. Some days this works out great. Some days, not so much.  

Today was one of those days with creative results. 

I am in the midst of embracing reality and attempting to restock the freezer with some homemade convenience foods because of real life. Messy, chaotic, crazy life. An attempt to avoid the 5 o'clock I forgot to plan dinner panic combined with an attempt to have easy grab and go foods to have on hand for the men in my life who spend almost all day out of the house. 

After returning from grocery shopping today, I had plans to make a batch of beef, rice, and cheese burritos as well as a couple of meatloaves for the freezer. So I enlisted 3 children to help with the prep work. Child one was assigned to making rice. Child 2 was assigned to cooking and seasoning 3 lbs of ground beef for burritos. Child 3 was assigned to taking 3 lbs of ground beef and mixing the ingredients for meat loaf. Seems simple enough.

Child 1 didn't get the rice cooker set up quite right so the rice had to run through again. Small issue and totally the fault of a dented rice cooker. Child 2 successfully managed to cook and season the beef. Child 3 mixed all of the ingredients for the meat loaf and then tossed in the precooked, seasoned meat for the burritos.

So we now have 2 Mexican flavored meatloaves in the freezer to go with 29 beef burritos. I'm hoping the texture of precooked ground beef in the meat loaf won't be too strange but we shall see.

The final goal, of course, is to give your kids the necessary skilled to survive on their own once they leave the nest. And we are well on the way to doing so. You just must learn to embrace the bumps in the road and hope that they results are something edible.  Kids in the kitchen are often unpredictable but always fun.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Homeschool 2017-2018: The Highschoolers

This school year we have 3 kids in high school. As far as records go, Katie and Liam are in 9th grade this year while Kieran is in 10th grade. These three kids are only 33 months apart from the oldest to the youngest so in practical terms, it is easiest to combine them for as many classes as possible. This means fewer classes to keep track of, fewer things to grade, hopefully fewer headaches for me. At least this is the theory. It also means built in lab partners and such things. Sadly, it does not mean saving any money on books because I've learned that if everyone does not have their own copy of each book, you will hear excuses about never having access to the book and such things.

This year the kids are back to using Teaching Textbooks Algebra 1 and 2. The last couple of years, they tried something else with their online school but in the end, no one retained anything much at all. Teaching Textbooks does the daily grading for me so all I have to do is log in once a day and verify grades and go over any problem areas. This is truly a lifesaver for me.

Biology this year will be covered using Apologia's Exploring Creation with Biology. This series of books is written with a homeschooled student in mind so it is written directly to the student, assuming the teacher is not always doing direct instruction.  This series also has a notebook that goes with it to keep all of the papers for assignments and labs in one place. With more than one disorganized or slightly distracted or maybe reluctant student in the house, these are incredibly helpful. A full dissection kit and lab kit are available to help and and audio version of the textbook for the kid who does not enjoy reading. I will admit that I am not too thrilled with the young earth leanings in this series but it is otherwise the most student friendly series we have found. The kids just get lots of random discussions from Mom and Dad on our view of things. In May, I plan to have these guys attend a biology lab camp for more hands on experience as well.

For vocabulary, the kids are using Jensen's Vocabulary. This is a 3 semester course. I plan to have them cover one semester per year. This year they are doing the first year of Latin roots.

For grammar review, each student is using a different book because we had a few different options on the bookshelf to choose from. Kieran is using Easy Grammar 10, Katie is using Easy Grammar 9, and Liam is using Fix It! Grammar Book 2. In every case, these books should provide an easy 10 to 15 daily review of grammar for the kids.

We are doing a C.S. Lewis year for literature this year. Using High School Literature Guides from 7SistersHomeschool, the kids will be covering the entire Chronicles of Narnia series, The Screwtape Letters, and the Space Trilogy. They are also taking a 10 week writing seminar through Roberts Wesleyan College. Yes, I know the Narnia series is not typical considered high school fair but this time through the books, we will be taking a more critical approach to analyzing the series.

Visual Latin is our Latin program of choice this year. Video classes 3 times a week taught by Dwane Thomas and streamed through the Compass Classroom website. Mr. Thomas has a very friendly teaching style and his classes are full of "Dad jokes" so the kids learn in a more enjoyable manner than is typical for Latin courses. These classes are taught immersion style. I have to admit that their parents are learning right along with the kids on this one.

World geography this year uses Memoria Press Geography III. We are also starting the year with a quick review of US Geography because it seems somewhere along the lines, these guys never memorized some needed facts. Better to go back now and fix that than wait any longer.

I am planning on a 3 year study of logic, in semester bursts. This year the kids will cover Traditional Logic I from Memoria Press. I loved the logic class I took during a summer college experience in high school and have been looking forward to a logic class with my kids for years. Logic will be covered in the second semester, once the kids have finishes vocabulary for the year.

For religion, the kids are using two different levels of the Didache series from the Midwest Theological Forum. Katie and Liam are working on Introduction to Catholicism while Kieran is working on Understanding the Scriptures. These are very solid textbooks and I love the depth they go into. I do wish an answer key was available for homeschooling parents.

They are also taking a typing class this semester because increased typing speed and accuracy is never a bad thing.

Gym this year is mostly karate. The kids also participated in a kick ball league over the summer and will probably participate in a bowling league. We also hope to fit in a few of the homeschool ice skating sessions.

Hopefully we will have a productive and successful year together.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Another Response of Sorts

In response to all those people who like to say the following:

"I would never have a large family because I knew a large family growing up where the kids did all the work and the parents did nothing other than just keep having babies. Kids should not have to change diapers or help at home. Large families keep kids from being able to be involved in activities and becoming individuals. The kids will all lose their faith. I will never have a large family."

Here's a response to consider. What would you say to the following:

"I would never have a small family because I knew lots of small families growing up. And those kids were almost all spoiled brats. They never spent any time together as family. The kids got every single new gadget and gizmo they ever wanted and never seemed to be thankful for the things they were given. The families are not at all close now that the kids are older and their parents are alone. I will never have a small family."

Can you see how neither one is worth basing your own decisions on? Every single family is different. Every single child is different. Each couple will discern on their own what is right for them. Have a large family. Have a small family. I really don't care what you do. Just quit trying to tell us that we are ruining the earth or being irresponsible or you would never do what we are doing because you are convinced all large families ruin kids. Or maybe remember that entire idea of using NFP as a default for every Catholic marriage is a very modern construct.  Or something.

And in the midst of this idiocy, remember to pray for all those couples who are desperate to have the very family you may take for granted.