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.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

How Do We Do It?

A week or so ago my husband shared a few posts from this blog on an NFP facebook group. This resulted in questions regarding how on earth can we justify having so many children (from a Catholic NFP group which makes me say, um, we have gone so far off the rails here folks) when we rely on other people to meet our financial needs. So I find myself in the position of having to answer these gross misconceptions.

First, let's consider what parents are obligated to provide for their children. I think we can all agree on the basics. Food, clothing, shelter, a safe and stable environment. As Catholic parents, we are also obligated to provide our children with a Catholic education. Yes, obligated. This obligation can be met in numerous ways. You can send your kid to a Catholic school (assuming the school is truly Catholic and not just calling itself Catholic while promoting values and beliefs that are contrary to the Faith). You can enroll your child in a parish based religious education program (providing, again, that the program truly teaches Catholicism and not some kum ba yah washed down version of what someone thinks is Catholicism). You can teach your children religious ed at home (using authentic resources folks). But it is your obligation to make sure the kids get the real deal stuff no matter how you chose to teach them. You are the one who is ultimately responsible so stay involved. Oh, and love of course. Cause they are your kids folks.

That is it. You are NOT required to provide sports and music and art classes. You are NOT required to provide cars and video games or even a college education. No mommy and me classes. No pets. They can even share bedrooms. Gasp! You are not required to provide the exact clothes your child begs for or whatever food they decide they want to eat. Or cell phones. Or vacations. Or movies. Or any of the other trappings that people seem to think go hand in hand with providing for children now a days. No wonder we are raising a generation of entitled people. Gracious, it is enough to make your head spin.

So now to the question: do we rely on other people to meet our basic needs? Nope. We do happily accept hand me downs, extra garden produce, bikes kids have outgrown, books no longer needed. We do scour thrift stores and even pick up things off the side of the road on occasion. I will acknowledge that we have been blessed with free cross country skis (which are often used in the huge backyard), computers folks didn't need, bikes, tvs, fridges, a piano, and even a couple of free cars. Yes, we have been that blessed. Folks have passed along diapers their kids outgrew, a few cribs, outdoor toys, and furniture. And we do the exact same thing. When we no longer need something or just have no storage space, we pass things along to those who can use them. For FREE. I'm assuming most people do the same thing. I know there are those who must sell everything because, well, they want to. But I'd rather have it out of my house and in the hands of someone who can use it without the headache. So, yes, we accept things people are passing along and have been given some pretty big gifts from time to time. But we are able to provide the basic needs of our children on our own.

How do we do that? That is not a simple question. My husband works a regular job and a part time job. He also does some free lance work on the side which sometimes brings in some change but is mostly a hobby that feeds his soul.  I stay at home with the kids because I truly believe children need a parent at home with them. We also homeschool, obviously, so that cuts down on certain requests and fund raisers and all the assorted stuff that goes along with attending school. It does also mean we cover all books ourselves as well as art, gym, and music classes. I admit that Grandparents often chip in on school supplies every now and again which is awesome and allows us to cover extras instead of just basics but again, I'm talking basics vs extras. We don't have cable and everyone in the house lives in hand me down or thrift store clothes most of the time. But I'd do the same if we had 2 kids. We can and freeze food. We grow or raise some food ourselves. I budget like a crazy person to keep the food bills down and often negotiate with companies for lower costs on services we do pay for. We drive cars until they die. My mother-in-law sends us the coupons they don't use every month. I follow the pantry principle and stock up on items when they are at rock bottom prices. I aim to maintain a 2 to 6 month supply of everything we consume in the house. I'm not afraid to ask for discounts ever. Large family/group discounts, military discounts, homeschool discounts. I ask for them all. We take advantage of discounts from places our kids work if that is a farm, restaurant or fun place to visit. We even do things like pick up the mistinted paint at the hardware store instead of picking colors ahead of time. Our kids pay for their own college education. We help friends do things and they help us fix things. Networking and bartering and learning from other folks.

And what I feel makes the difference: we donate to church and to others in need. Both as a couple and as a family. We share the awesome deals we find on food with the food pantry. The kids often volunteer with parish programs. The boys are altar servers for regular Masses and for funerals. One works with the A/V folks at church and another is training to be a eucharistic minister. One helps with the youth group. We are often around to set up and clean up for fund raisers and parish activities even though we can almost never afford to attend them. We bring meals to folks who need them. Yup, we do that NFP teaching and promoting thing. And we place our trust in a God who has never let us down.

Years ago I clearly heard God telling me two things (different occasions). One was that I needed to learn all the older skills and new ones so that I would be able to take care of this large crew of ours as it continued to grow. This is what led me to learn to can and sew and bake from scratch and all that sort of jazz. The old fashioned home making skills that seem to have gotten lost in the past couple generations. Another was a day when God told me to trust  Him more. We had maybe 4 or 5 kids at the time. Alan was on the road as always. An unexpected bill left us with a very tight budget so I headed to the pantry to do an inventory before making out the meal plan. And discovered it was hit by pantry bugs. Awful things. I had to throw away 90% of our food because it was all stored in the same closet. I do believe there might have been a few tears. So I cleaned out the kitchen, made a list and headed to the store with the kids and the credit card. (Never buy groceries on a credit card, just saying.) The next day our neighbor came over. They were going up north for the summer and wanted to give us all the perishable foods in their kitchen. I kid you not, they brought over almost every single item I had put on the credit card the day before. It was very clearly God telling me that I needed to trust more. He sent these kids our way, He will send a way to provide for them.

I am not saying the way is always easy or simple or what you want to do. Yes, you may be asked to swallow your pride sometimes and ask for help.  Yes, you may be asked to give up that thing you were saving for because your kid needs something more. Maybe you'll have to use drying racks for a while and save up for a new dryer (my life now). Maybe it means cloth diapers (because they are cool anyway). Maybe it means 4 kids share a bedroom.

No matter how you make it work, you won't regret it. The truth is that a healthy Catholic couple getting married in their 20's truly should prepare themselves to raise a brood of 6 or 8 or more. This is as it has always been. There is a reason Catholic wedding vows include accepting children willingly from God and bringing them up according to the law of Christ and his Church. It's just not a negotiable thing. Maybe we took it a bit far with 13 kids but we like to take things to extremes it seems.

So, yes, most of my kids are happily sporting hand me downs right now. So am I. Two of the vehicles sitting in our driveway were gifts. At least one of the tv's in the house was picked up off the side of the road and the second one was given to us. The baby currently plays in a bouncer we picked up for free. Grandparents send the kids' restaurant gift cards for their birthdays because they know we neither need nor want any more toys around here. They send school supplies or books the kids might want to read or a box full of snacks every so often. When they heard one of the kids had started piano lessons, they offered to help pay for them. And yet I don't consider tv's, restaurant meals, bouncers, cookies or piano lessons to be necessities. I'm fairly certain our kids would be just fine without them.

So how do we do it? I will simply say it is a God thing. I've stopped asking how things will work out at the end of each month but I know that they will.

Monday, May 15, 2017

The Circle: A Book Review

The book The Circle is written by Dave Eggers. Eggers spins a story of a future that is truly not too far off from the world we are currently living in. A future where everyone shares every single aspect of their lives on-line. A future where cameras are every where and privacy is looked upon as something suspect.

This book follows the life of Mae Holland as she lands her dream job at a company called the Circle. This company actively encourages folks to track and share all of their life online. They promote the idea of community and closeness with those you have never met but converse with over the web. Obviously, the parallels to what we are seeing in our world today are many.

Those who chose not to share their every waking moment online quickly find that they are unable to interact with anyone freely or to easily earn a living. As the Circle begins to promote the slogan "Privacy is Theft," those who are uncomfortable with sharing their every thought are looked upon with suspicion. 

This book left me looking at my own online presence in a different light. I will admit I often find myself feeling thankful that the world of Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram was not around when I was in high school and college. I find myself feeling tremendous pity for those teens who find things shared about them against their wishes and have found I am less likely to share things about my own children in recent weeks. I've also noticed some push back from those who think that everything should be shared now. Eerily similar to the book. It has made me examine a few things more closely. 

The book does contain several sexual scenes which are more than excessive and unnecessary in detail. For this reason, I caution parents in sharing this book with your teens until after you have read it yourself.

Overall, I found The Circle to be an enjoyable book that definitely gave me a few things to ponder in my own life.

Real Life Math

Forget algebra kids. We have for you today a real life math problem. Or, as my husband corrected me, a Catholic math problem.

You must feed 12 people dinner (it is Mom and Dad's date night and they will eat after the children are in bed). You are serving hot dogs tonight because it is that kind of a night. The hot dogs come 24 to a package. The buns come 16 to a package. The baby will only eat baby food. The youngest toddler won't eat bread yet. The oldest toddler won't eat the buns but will want one to sit on his plate and hold his hot dogs before he devours them. The rest of the eaters are 6, 8, 9, 11, 12, 13, 15, 17, and 19. So how many of each package will you need to feed the crew and come out even?

This is the math they need to teach in school because this is the daily struggle, I tell you. You get it wrong and the teenagers will ransack the pantry after the littles are in bed and devour two weeks worth of snacks in one night. Oh, who am I kidding. They will do that even if you get the math right.