Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Maple Sugar Time

We went to our favorite living history museum today for their Sap, Syrup and Sugar field trip.  The kids had a chance to learn about how maple syrup is produced both now and in the past.  Everyone got to try maple sap straight from the tree and the pure maple syrup produced at the end of the process.  We learned that it takes 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup and lots of time and energy.  Which explains why real maple syrup is so expensive but so much better tasting than the cheap stuff. 
Placing the Tap

Older Tin Buckets

Carrying the Sap

Everyone Was Put to Work

Even the Littlest Kids Were Needed

Liam

The Sugar Camp

Boiling the Sap to Make Sugar


Monday, March 28, 2011

Baby Chicks

The chicks arrived this morning. We got a phone call from the post office rather early this morning asking us to please come get the little noise makers.  Seems the folks at the post office aren't really partial to having chicks in their space all day.
Once they were all counted, we have 26 chicks.  I'm hoping that one ends up being a rooster.  We ordered all egg layers but added on the free "rare chick" which could be a rooster.  Last time it did turn out to be a rooster which was kind of nice until the dog killed the poor thing.  Yes, I'm weird but I kind of liked having a rooster around.  They do tend to be a bit protective of their flock which is a good thing.
Tonight we will move the chicks down to the basement and when the weather warms up a bit, we'll move them out to the garage.  For now they are hanging out in the school room near the pellet stove with the rest of us.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

What I Needed to Hear Today

I think I received just about the best compliment today.  A few weeks ago I decided to share a review I had done with the members of our local homeschooling group.  I will admit I did this with some trepidation because my blog is not exactly what I would call a perfect homeschooling Mom's blog.  It does chronicle our life and our schooling (or lack of as the case may be at times) but I don't think it really shows us as put together people.  I will admit I was afraid that I would seem a bit of a crazy person to local folks.  But one of the other mom's today said basically I read your blog and enjoy it because you seem so normal.  Exactly what we are all hoping for, someone else with a lived-in, often cluttered, perhaps messy house, with a schedule that does not always go as planned, kids who leave the house with clothes that don't match and maybe are on backwards and life that simply does not always go as planned.  So thanks for letting me know that things are the same at your house at times because I think we all harbor that fear that everyone else has it more together than we do at times.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

40 Bags Update

The attempt to clear the extra clutter out of the house is going rather well.  The ticker on the sidebar is not totally up to date since I have not counted every bag of clothes that has gone out the door or the clothes that ended up in the trash or the huge gigantic pile of cardboard boxes that has been removed from the upstairs.  We still have quite a lot of work to do.  This weekend I tackle the playroom now that I have finally been given the approval to do a brutal purge of toys.  Alan has always been reluctant to purge the toys too much because it can be a waste of money and the kids could get very angry.  But I think he has finally reached the point of being sick to death of fighting with them on the mess. Me too.  Ok, I reached that point a long stinking time ago.  I'm hoping my motivation lasts through the weekend so that I can truly purge the playroom.  With older boys and elementary kids and toddlers and preschoolers, that room has accumulated way too much junk and most of it is rarely played with. 

As I watch the bags of clothes and junk leave the house, I am slightly in shock over how much stuff we have in this house.  One the clothes front, it's amazing because just this past September at least 12 bags of clothes were donated.  I think the hand-me-downs reproduce in their bins.  Really I do.  But this has forced me to rethink not only our dependence on stuff but how we attempt to help other people.  I tend to view the hand-me-downs and extra stuff in much the same way I view our pantry stockpile.  It provides me with a sense of security.  I know as long as I have those bins full of clothes in the basement, I won't have to worry about being able to provide for the kids if we get hit financially.  On the other hand, if I'm keeping too much, it does become hoarding. 

We've been incredibly blessed with family and friends who have passed things along to us that they no longer need.  We also try our best to pass along things we don't need to others.  But there are some days when I question what people are thinking.  Coming home to expired car seats on the porch or bags of ripped, stained clothes and broken toys, I question how people think they are really helping. It's like there are some folks who just think "Hey, there's a large family, they can use anything we were going to throw out and will be happy to get it."  Yup, we are thrilled to have folks think of us but not so thrilled to now have to find a way to dispose of junk.  This has forced me to be more mindful in how we attempt to help other people ourselves.  Hopefully we are not just passing along our own junk to someone else who now needs to find a way to dispose of it.

Before I ramble myself into a circle, I'd best go find a box to fill with the stuff we need to send off to the thrift store and see if we have more books to clear off the shelves and convince myself that it really is ok to let go of the last of the baby boy clothes.  Man, that one is hard.  No, it does not mean we are done having kids so those of you thinking that can stop the premature celebration and thinking we have finally come to our senses..  It just means we realize someone else could benefit from it right now.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Happy Birthday Robert

Birthday season was officially kicked off around here with Robert's 2nd birthday today.  The poor boy is feeling rather sick and miserable and probably would have been quite happy if we had postponed things until he was feeling better but his older siblings decided putting off the cake would be an absolute travesty.  In other words, they'd been counting on dessert tonight and it would happen no matter what.  The joys of being two, you don't really care or have a clue when other people make these decisions about your birthday.




Chocolate cake was enjoyed by all and then the boy opened a couple presents.  One of these years we will figure out how to get the other children to leave the birthday child alone so they can actually play with their presents in peace and quiet for a bit.  Anyway, the little dude is officially two now.  Happy birthday buddy.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Trebuchet Video

video

It's a Guy Thing

 Alan took the older boys this morning to a group event where they got to play with trebuchets and catapults.  No major injuries were sustained and everyone had a blast.  Hopefully they actually got a chance to learn something but that is always a tad doubtful when there is a large amount of testosterone floating around super cool weaponry type gadgets.  Alan has compiled a short movie of the best launches and he'll hopefully get around to posting it here tomorrow. Until then, here are a few pictures.



St Joseph's Day Dinner

We went to the annual St. Joseph's/St. Patrick's Day dinner.  This year Katie and Liam got to play the roles of Mary and Joseph.  They did a great job.





Thursday, March 17, 2011

Homemade Marshmallows

This is absolutely not something I can say I did to save money.  Marshmallows from the store are super cheap.  It is rather something I did just so I could say "Hey, guess what I made" and I am totally ok with that.  Besides, what better way to celebrate St. Patrick's Day than with something green?
I used this recipe and am very happy with the results.  Dyed them green for the holiday.  No, it did not turn into the big sticky mess that I was anticipating and was really rather easy.  I did stop the mixer just a tad early because I was worried about the motor burning out.  Yes, this experiment did prove to us that our mixer seems to be on it's last legs.  Don't try this recipe if you only have a hand mixer, I've heard it has been known to kill those motors very easily.  I am hoping to make these again for the kids' Easter baskets and dip them in chocolate.  That sounds absolutely perfect to me.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Help Your Local Food Pantry

Here's a very inexpensive way to help your local food pantry or crisis pregnancy center.  I was browsing the monthly Sales & Special Offers on Amazon.com this evening and saw that Earth's Best Baby Food is on sale for 20% off.  I will admit that we don't use baby food around here so I normally would not have paid attention to it but I looked further and realized that I could get a 12 pack of organic baby food to donate to the food pantry for just over $5.  I had a gift card still sitting in my account from Swagbucks so I only paid 6 cents.  Use the code EDMARCH4 at check out after you select the Subscribe & Save option and you will also get free shipping.  As soon as your shipment arrives,log back onto your account and cancel the Subscribe & Save order so they don't ship more to you next month.  Food pantries rarely get baby items and crisis pregnancy centers can always use them as well.

Slow Cooking Love

Have you seen the Crockpot365 blog yet?  If you have not yet visited this great site, go now.  I got the recipe I use for making yogurt from this blog and frequently browse for some new dinner ideas.  Heck, just some new ways to use the crockpots.  If I have 2 of them, I am going to get as much use out of them as possible.  Tonight we had CrockPot Broccoli Beef for dinner and it was delicious.  Best part for me is that the meat cooked in the crockpot, the rice in the rice cooker and I was able to feed Ellie, tend to 3 overtired toddlers and still have dinner ready when Alan got home.

Monday, March 14, 2011

The 40 Bags Countdown

I have decided that I will be keeping a countdown on the side of my blog as each of the 40 "bags" leaves the house.  No, not every item will be a bag but I think it's the easiest way to think of everything.  Hopefully seeing a written record of what leaves the house will help keep me motivated through Lent to see this project through to the end.  I know I have a ton of extra stuff to get rid of that we just keep hanging onto for some reason.  It's a fine line between keeping enough to be frugal and prudently prepared and keeping so much that you are coming close to hoarding.  I figure it will be best at this point to clear out a bit extra and hopefully bless someone else with our extras.

Lego Creationary

I've had this game on my wish list for the kids for quite a while.  I just kept finding reasons to tell myself it was not worth buying or too expensive.  This weekend I went shopping alone and decided to buy it for the kids anyway.  Seems I'm much more likely to splurge on the kids if they aren't with me.  Probably because I have time to think a bit and relax.  Anyway, I'm glad I finally bought the game.
This game is basically pictionary with Legos.  It has 3 different levels to choose from and honestly gives you some pretty darn challenging figures to try to build.
The best part of this game for me is that children of many different ages/abilities can play together quite easily meaning it is the perfect game for a large family.
Judging by the number of times I have been asked if they can play the game again today, I think the kids enjoyed it, too.

Pretty Little Baby

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Colgate Bright Smiles

A few years ago I signed our family school up for the Colgate Bright Smiles program.  This program is designed to be used in classrooms to teach children about dental health.  A new kit is mailed out every year with supplies.
Our box arrived a few days ago full of toothpaste, toothbrushes, a sing-a-long CD, small booklets for the kids and a large copy of the booklet for the teacher.  Obviously, we'll use it a bit differently than if we were in an actual classroom but I am always thrilled for a chance to receive 25 free toothbrushes.  Past years' boxes have included a movie and a poster.  Yes, this wonderful program welcomes homeschool participants so sign up today if you haven't already.

Seven Bicycle Helmets

For some crazy insane reason our children always seem to "forget" to put their helmets away.  Ok, I know the reason. They are children.  But the helmets than get knocked around and beat up and broken.  And you are supposed to replace them every few years anyway since the padding can break down simply from daily wear and tear.
So today I bought a new batch of bicycle helmets.  $80 later and I still need to get one for Robert but they only had one red helmet in the toddler size. I refuse to buy a pink one for my boys and I refuse to spend $25 on a bike helmet for a 2-year-old to use most around the yard when I can get another $10 one next week.  Now we'll have enough for our kids and a few extras for friends when they are over so it will be much easier to enforce the house rule of "no helmet, no bike."

Friday, March 11, 2011

PaperBackSwap

As part of our efforts to empty the house of unnecessary clutter and mess this Lent, we are attempting to purge the bookshelves.  Thankfully in our area the recycling program will accept books so the 20-year-old encyclopedia set can be tossed into the recycling bin.  At least one bag of books will be donated to the library.  The rest of the books will be listed on the PaperBackSwap website.

PaperBackSwap is a program that allows you to list the books you have in your home that you are done reading so that other people may request them.  You also put up a list of books you want to read. You mail out the books you have to other people and those who have the books you request mail books to you.  Everyone receives a credit for each book they mail out which can be used to purchase books from other people.  Even better than the library since you can keep the books you really enjoy or get a hold of books your library doesn't carry. I know I am often looking for books that our library doesn't carry.  This way I can avoid buying some of them.

Want to give it a try?  Click on my referral banner on the left.  Sign up, list 10 books and you will automatically receive 2 credits that you can use immediately.  You can also request audio books, CDs and DVDs.  Materials can be mailed media mail which means you will only spend around $2 to mail a book.  Give it a try.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

40 Bags

Lent is here and I wish I could say I had some grand plan for what to do this year to make it meaningful.  Truthfully, I haven't a clue.  We'll be do Stations of the Cross each Friday as a family.  I will try to stick with meatless meal plans more often than not.  We have a Lenten Calendar to put up in the kitchen for the kids to count the days.  Bryan just asked if he could make an Alleluia Box again.  I hope to actually finish that Passion Play Cut n Color kit I bought so long ago.  Seems I am lacking inspiration but then again, when we try to do too much, we burn out and end up doing nothing.  And frankly, this past year has in many ways already felt like one long extended "Lent" anyway so it's kind of hard to think of something new to do.

We have decided instead this year to focus on a fairly popular idea called 40 Bags in 40 Days.  The idea is to clear your home/life of all of the extra clutter and stuff. To learn to let go of the material possessions you've come to depend upon so much.  To give the extras to those who don't have what you do or to just clean that overflowing closet that you are afraid to open because you fear for your life when you do.  I know we won't be doing all bags since we do have several expired carseats that still have not made it to the trash, a coffee table to give away, a microwave to give away, books to donate and other assorted stuff.  I think it will end up being just 40 "things" with most of them being bags.  Clothes to donate, computer parts to toss, toys to purge, books to purge.  Hopefully we will gain a bit of space and a bit of perspective.  Now to get the kids to join us in this venture.  Ok, that might be asking for too darn much.

Monday, March 7, 2011

How the 3-Year-Old Does Art

Notice the copious amounts of glue.  Notice the intense look of concentration.  Notice the diaper cover sitting on the table.  Sigh, I thought I'd cleaned up all evidence of my lack of housekeeping before snapping the picture.
Notice the huge grin on his face.  And the large pile of construction paper sacrificed to make this little boy happy.  Notice one day when Mom finally did say yes to the requests to "make a project, please."

Respect Life Faith Folder

May I admit that I totally prefer hands-on ways to teach my kids whenever possible?  And that when I had fewer kids, I seemed to have an easier time working hands-on stuff into our schooling?  A wee bit of guilt here because I know several of our active kids would truly benefit from more hands-on work with regards to schooling. Besides, book work gets boring quickly.  But I have 9 children and the sheer chaos that is often generated by getting out hands-on materials frequently has me running for the hills.
But I was given the opportunity to receive a copy of a Life Is Sacred Faith Folder from the wonderful folks at Lapbooks for Catholics in exchange for doing a review of the folder so I vowed to make a bit of a change and do better at getting some hands-on material into the children's hands.  It has sadly taken me a while to complete this project because I would get the materials out and things would kind of go like this: baby is settled into her seat and sleeping, I get about 5 minutes of quiet from the baby before the 9-year-old decides they must go mess with her and wakes her up, cue screaming baby, the 3-year-old decides that he absolutely must drive his monster trucks directly through and over the area where I am attempting to work with the 6 and 7-year-old, the 4-year-old decides that she is going to have a major mental meltdown because she wants to know when it will be her turn to do school, the 11 and 13-year-olds see I am busy and use this opportunity to sneak down to the basement to turn the tv on, the 1-year-old finds a pair of scissors that a sibling set down and runs off into the other room to try to cut up a pillow.  Hey, just keeping it real here folks.  So we have finally finished the project and I loved it.
This new version of the Life is Sacred Faith Folder contains a ton more information than their previous edition.  The new version offers you the chance to cover topics such as abortion, euthanasia, contraception and stem cell research.  I opted not to use these materials for this folder because I was working with my younger children but would absolutely add the materials if working with my older children.  The folder also introduces you to several saints associated with pro-life causes and teaches you a bit about each one.  You also learn several prayers and are shown a month by month progression of the growth of an unborn child.
Before starting work on your folder, I would make sure you have an ample supply of glue, file folders, scissors and printer ink (or maybe a laser printer).  You can also add to your folder by using different colored paper and card stock for printing.  I had a nice stash of colored paper and card stock at the beginning of the school year but my children discovered them and decided they make great paper airplanes so our folder was made using plain white printer paper.  If you don't want to print everything yourself, you do have the option of ordering the folder already printed. 
This faith folder is an excellent tool for introducing your children to the many important issues surrounding the pro-life movement.  I loved working with my kids on it and I know they all learned something from it.  I definitely recommend that you find a way to make this folder with your family.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Book Review: Burst

I recently read the book Burst: A Story of God's Grace When Life Falls Apart by Kevin Wells.  This inspirational book tells the story of his life and the role suffering and grace can play in healing the spirit.

Everyone seemingly hopes for a calm, easy, predictable life.  Very few of us ever get that life handed to us.  Instead we are handed a life full of struggle and intermittent hard times.  It is in these hard times that many folks learn to draw closer to God and embrace His love most fully.  When everything else in your life is called into question and stripped away, God's unending mercy is what you are left with. 

Within the pages of Burst, you read the story of Wells' experience in learning to rely to God in the hard times.  Burst gives me hope that I will find God's mercy in the hard times and come to rely on Him more fully.

This review was written as part of the Catholic book reviewer program from The Catholic Company. Visit The Catholic Company to find more information on Burst - A Story of God's Grace When Life Falls Apa. They are also a great source for serenity prayer and baptism gifts.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Little Flowers

Today the girls had their Little Flowers meeting.  We are very thankful to have this wonderful group of folks to get together with once a month. In a perfect world, we'd be able to meet more often but that just doesn't happen right now.  Today the girls made these projects.  I love the way they turned out.

Star Wars ABC's

This chart is now holding a spot on our fridge door.  I've even caught the older boys paying attention to it. Just what my super geeky kids need.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

She's 3 Months

Look who is 3 months old today.  Yup, Ellie is still super small but is acting like an older baby now.  She's even starting to tolerate her father for longer periods of time.  Usually just long enough for me to shower in the morning.  She still very much runs the show around here and demands near constant attention but she has the best smiles and is even starting to talk to us a bit. 
I've often heard folks say that they think a little baby would get lost in a larger family because you've done the baby thing before a few times.  Or you are too busy with the other kids to spend time with a baby.  Personally I've found that having older kids helps me to enjoy the baby stage so much more.  I know how quickly it disappears so I try to soak it up even more than before, focus on the now and not spend my days wishing for her to get bigger.  There is nothing quite like baby snuggles, baby smiles and that unconditional love and trust a little person gives you when they fall asleep in your arms.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The Ergo Arrived

 Gabe loves the new carrier. You have to love any carrier that allows you to carry a 3 year-old easily.  Even accounting for the fact that Gabe weighs almost nothing, he is longer than a 1 year-old so you need to account for that.  Alan still says he feels like he is squishing the kid wearing the Ergo but Gabe said he was very comfy.  The Sport carrier is made of a more light weight material than the original one which is nice for longer uses and warmer weather.  It also has a much nicer sleeping hood than the original Ergo I bought 6 or 7 years ago.  That will be very handy for when little ones fall asleep on your back since it keeps their head from flopping backwards while they sleep. I have a feeling we will be getting a lot of use out of this Ergo in the next few years.
The Ergo Sport Carrier that I won last week from Babysteals arrived in the mail today.  I've already tested it out with Gabe and will have pictures later.  I've very excited to get something new for me that I did not have to pay for and will be used for a few years.  Now to find a replacement diaper bag since the zipper on mine finally broke after 5 or 6 years.

Rambling Again

I am very behind on my blog reviews.  Hopefully I can get some of them done tonight.  After bowling today, I am hoping to do the Respect Life faith folder with the middle kids.  It looks great and I am hoping the kids will like it as much as I think they will.  And I must get the latest book review done so I can move onto some appropriate reading for Lent.  Not sure what that will be this year though.  Anyone have a suggestion or two?