Sunday, October 30, 2011

Planning For A Roadtrip

We are trying to put the final touches on planning a fairly long road trip.  Ok, the drive really isn't that bad until you factor in 11 people in one vehicle.  20 hours or so broken up into two days.  I'm sure we'll have fun.  I'm also sure that by the time we make it to our final destination, at least a few nerves will be worn a bit.
May I admit that I'm not really worried about how the kids will do in the car?  They are used to car trips for the most part.  The biggest issue for us now is calling ahead and finding hotels with room for all of us along the way so the trips are no longer quite as spontaneous as they used to be when there were fewer of us.  I'm also going to say I am one of those mean parents who thinks there is something good about allowing your kids to be bored for a bit.  Or use their imaginations.  All electronic gadgets are banned until after lunch time.  That has been my long standing rule on road trips for the last 7 years.  Imagine that.  The kids get 6 hours to just read and talk and play together (8 hours if we leave as early in the morning as Alan hopes).  No DVDs or video games.

May I also admit that I get rather annoyed, frustrated and sometimes angry when I hear other parents talk about how hard it is to take their kids in the car?  How they don't want the kids in the car for longer than 2 hours.  Oh my gosh, how can they be expected to sit still for that long and not get bored?  Seriously folks, I bet you survived a road trip or two as a child and I bet your kids will, too.  Guess I'm just getting frustrated and annoyed with this whole helicopter parenting thinking that says your children can never be inconvenienced ever.  I promise you that even if you are stuck traveling with a child who gets car sick or there is a freak rainstorm and all your clothes in the suitcases on the roof get soaked or you leave a pair of shoes home, your kids will survive a road trip.  Then again, maybe I just don't over think things and go with the flow.  Maybe.

Friday, October 28, 2011

The First Library Card

Liam and Katie got their very own library cards yesterday.  To say they were excited is a wee bit of an understatement.  They have obviously learned the power of these little tiny cards.  There was all sorts of excitement about being able to "pay" for the own books by themselves.  Now the only problem we have is how the heck do we keep track of all the books that can be checked out when you have 6 library cards in the family.  At least the occasional fine goes to a good cause.

Soup Weather

I love cooler weather.  It brings to mind hot chocolate, popcorn, blankets on the couch and soup.  Lots of warm, filling, yummy, inexpensive soup.  Soup is on our meal plan list at least once a week during the cooler months and often more than that.  Who can argue with something that stretches so easily, is gentle on the budget and can often be made in the crockpot?

Last week I tried a new version of potato soup.  One that could be made entirely in the crockpot making it perfect for Boy Scout night when the older kids needed to eat earlier than normal.  Everyone enjoyed it, even the kid who really does not like potatoes.  My only complaint would be that it used 2 blocks of cream cheese so it's not truly inexpensive. 

The goal for this winter is to find a broccoli cheese soup recipe that everyone likes. One that does not use cream of something soups and does not use Velveeta.  Yummy as it may be for chip dip, I really don't think anything labeled as "cheese food" belongs in a soup.  Give me real food, not the fake stuff thank you very much. 

I'm also planning to tackle making biscuits without a mix.  Yes, I will hang my head in shame and admit that Bisquick holds a place of love in this house but I am trying to phase it out.  Small steps here.  Wish me luck and please share your secrets to making a perfect biscuit. I know it has to be cheaper to make them from scratch.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Fire Station Field Trip

October is fire prevention month so we planned a trip to one of the local fire stations.  The one we visited is manned entirely by volunteers.  They gave the kids a great tour and even gave everyone rides in the trucks.  Seriously, rides in real fire trucks.  For everyone but Gabe who was for some reason terrified of the trucks.
He sounds just like Darth Vader
Katie demonstrating how to "Stop, Drop, and Roll"

Robert
Katie
Kieran and Sean
Can you see the kids through the windows? They were thrilled.
The whole gang

Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Girls

Just have to say I spent a wonderful afternoon out with two of my girls.  Katie is turning into an amazing young lady who absolutely loves her littlest sister.  Makes me feel very lucky to have them in my life.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Snowmen-A Sneak Peek

Good movies have the power to speak to you, to move you, to educate you.  They leave a lasting mark on your heart.  Bad movies can do the same thing but in a very negative way. I believe that is the problem we are running into in recent years when it comes to the movies being offered to our children.  In recent months, I have seen a few movies come out that are turning the tide back in favor of family friendly movie fare.  I was thrilled to be given the chance to watch a sneak-peak of one such movie.

The movie Snowmen features an all-star cast including Christopher Lloyd, Ray Liotta and Bobby Coleman.  This movie is aimed at the tween crowd but is family friendly and appropriate for all ages.  I watched the movie with just about all the kids other than the oldest (he was busy doing school work) and everyone liked it.  Ok, maybe the youngest kids were going in and out of the room every so often but they do that no matter what is on tv.  I never once had to worry about inappropriate language or "bathroom" humor that is so often slipped into kids' movies in a pathetic attempt to garner a few laughs.

This movie focuses on teaching children that it's not just important to accomplish something, but to accomplish things in the right way.  It shows unexpected heroism on the part of some of the characters and shows how what you see on the outside is not always the same as what is going on under the surface.

I give this movie a huge recommendation.  It's not often that you find a truly family friendly movie today.  One that will entertain both adults and children without using inappropriate humor or language.  You can safely take all of your children to see this movie, just be prepared for a few slightly scary scenes for younger or sensitive children.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Meal Plans for Us or How to Stretch That Food Budget

Meal planning is one of those wonderful tools we use to stick to a decent food budget.  I've heard that question posed almost everywhere lately.  How much to you spend on groceries? How can I cut my food spending?  I sure as heck don't have all the answers but I do have a few tricks that help us out a ton.  But the bottom line right now is that food costs are going up and if you aren't prepared to make a few changes or have to room to increase you food budget, you'll be in for sticker shock in a few more months.

I have to say for me the biggest money saving budget wise was deciding to no longer shop for what we'd use that week, but instead to stock a pantry and cook from what we have stored.  Yes, I am a big believer in the 3 month food supply.  Our stock-pile also includes things like toilet paper, tissues, shampoo, soap, laundry detergent, lens solution, toothpaste, toothbrushes and the like.  I'll admit I don't bother to stockpile dog or chicken food.  If we were struggling to feed ourselves, the chickens would become free-ranging and the dog would get scraps or a new home.  Maybe that's mean but if I really had to choose, people will come first. The chickens get a bit of priority because they provide eggs but the dog is just a pet. Mostly.

Having a large stockpile means I am able to wait it out and buy things on sale.  Having the storage room set aside means I can make bulk purchases.  In this house we have lots of extra storage room in the basement along with a second fridge and a full size freezer but we've done the storage in Florida with a much smaller space.  It just takes creative thinking.  (If you are looking for a bulk purchase of chicken breast, check out Zaycon Foods.  $1.49/lb is a great price for boneless skinless chicken breasts.)

Because the grocery budget has had to be cut a little bit lately, I've started making a full-scale meal plan every week.  I downloaded some free menu planning sheets from Money Saving Mom.  Every weekend I make a basic outline of every single meal and snack ideas.  We aren't slaves to the meal plan but it helps a ton.  It helps the kids in the morning know not to eat all the cereal in one week and then have none for the rest of the month. It helps me plan ahead to have a crockpot meal on Boy Scout nights and a kid friendly meal on Mom and Dad's date night.  It also helps me avoid having produce languish in the fridge because it got buried.  Please tell me I'm not the only one to do that on occasion.

Using these simple ideas, I know that I could feed the family for $100 a month or less if I had to in an emergency type situation.  Yes, this means we would be eating out of the stockpile but that is kind of what it is there for.  I've taken the time to learn to make bread, stock, tortillas, yogurt, jams, salsa and other things from scratch so that if our budget was truly tested, I would be able to stretch the last few pennies a bit farther.  I'm hoping to pass these skills onto our children before they leave the nest.  It's much easier facing a financially troubling time when you are already armed with the ability to battle it than when you have to learn those skills under fire.

Friday, October 14, 2011

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month

And you will never see me supporting the pink campaign.  Why?  Quite simply because the pink crusaders are led by a group which gives lots of money to support abortions.  Abortions which are directly linked to/proven to increase breast cancer rates.  Simply put, you get an abortion you decide to drastically increase your chances of developing breast cancer because of the way the human body is designed to work.  Breast tissue begins to change in pregnancy to allow for milk production.  An abortion immediately halts that change but the changed tissue does not return to normal and remains abnormal and frequently turns into cancerous tissue. That is the basic scientifically proven gist of things.  Do a little research if you doubt me or the link to the pink campaign and breast cancer causing activities.

But I also feel it is important to highlight during this month another well known cause of cancer.  The birth control pill.  It is considered a carcinogen by the World Health Organization for starters.  Many countries also have it labeled as such. It is damaging our environment (what do you really think happens in nature when all of those women taking extra hormones pee?  the hormones end up in our drinking water, in the rivers animals drink from, they damage many things because God never intended any of His creatures to be exposed to that horrid crap).  It is harmful to our children.  The hormones have been linked not only to the increase in female infertility but also to the increase in male infertility.  But hey, far be it from me to suggest that if folks aren't ready for kids AND married, that they maybe just don't have sex.  Far be it from me to suggest that rather than putting young women and teens dealing with menstrual issues (many of which are normal as the body attempts to regulate the newly developing hormonal cycles itself) on artificial hormones, they be given real help and nutritional aids to deal with the issues.  Far be it from me to suggest that we embrace the great gift of life when we can just take a little pill and make it all go away.  Sigh.

Hopefully I am speaking to the choir here but who knows.  Do a little research before you spend your money or get mad at a child when they say they refuse to support the great pink campaign because they have been educated about what it really supports.  And, yes, we have sadly had uneducated folks who have been brainwashed by the media yell at our children for saying they don't support the great pink crusaders.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Review-VocabularySpellingCity

We've been using VocabularySpellingCity for the past few weeks in our homeschool.  This has turned out to be a wonderful program for making spelling work more fun for the kids.

This program is very easy for both the parent and the students to use.  At the beginning of the week (or whenever I am doing my weekly planning), I simply entered each student's spelling list for the week.  I then chose several activities for them to work on using that list of words.  You can have the student play games with the words or stick with the familiar more schoolish ways to review words.  There is also an option to have the student learn the definitions of each word.

This program also allows you to pick from many word lists on their site. The yearly membership fees for a premium membership are very affordable if you want to have the ability to use different lists for different students.  These features make the program very affordable for large families or those on a tight budget with regard to school spending.

All of my kids who have been using VocabularySpellingCity over the past few weeks love it.  Granted, anytime I can put their learning on the computer and make it more than just worksheets they are happy.  They all love the interactive nature of the program and being able to play games with their words rather than just writing the words on paper repeatedly to memorize them. The kids have been doing crossword puzzles and playing games with their spelling words.  Heck, Kieran has been asking to work on his spelling since starting this program. This program gets a thumbs up from our family.

Just a side note: I was given a free premium membership to VocabularySpellingCity for a candid, personal, on-line review of the program. I was not compensated in any other way.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Preschool Field Trip

I am trying to focus a bit more this year on focused time with the younger kids and focused time with the older kids.  It is very easy with such a large age spread to leave out some important time with some of the kids.  A few weeks ago the older children went with me to see Dolphin Tale and today the little kids went with me to tour the local apple farm.
This trip was mostly preschool kids.  There were very few older kids which meant that the little kids actually got to ask their questions.  It seems when the older kids are around, the little kids kind of blend in to the background.  I love hearing the questions the little guys come up with.
We learned about how apple trees grow, where the apples come from, got to pick apples and try apple cider.  Then we rode a wagon out to the pumpkin patch where we learned about how pumpkins grow.  The kids all got to pick their own little pumpkin and enjoy a long wagon ride back to the front of the farm.  They even had popcorn and played at the playground.
A very enjoyable trip.  Just watching these guys soak up the atmosphere and knowing this trip was just for them was wonderful.  I think my favorite part of the day was when Gabe looked up at our tour guide, Farmer Jermaine, with the biggest eyes and said "You know, you are REALLY tall."  I think Jermaine is at least 6 feet tall or so and he was great with the kids.
 If you live in the Rochester area, be sure to drop by Whittier Farms to enjoy their wonderful atmosphere and get some of the yummy apples.  Very family friendly establishment and their prices are great.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Busy, Busy

I am currently in the middle of what I hope will be a purge of the entire house.  Started with the clothes. Still working on those but we also have to get rid of some extra books, toys, videos, furniture, electronics and other assorted stuff.  With 11 people living in this house, there just is not any extra room and pretty much everything needs to have real justification for staying.  It's why I really have a hard time being happy when people send the kids big toys or things with a million parts.  I know we can't keep something like that and I have to be the one to tell the kids why it has to go.  Or it stays and I am driven crazy by the mess.  So this will be a kind of busy week.

I'm also reading the book Protecting the Gift right now.  Great book, a must read for parents everywhere.  This may sound silly but it is nice to hear someone basically reminding me that it is totally ok to acknowledge that there are certain relatives that have always, always given me the creeps.  As in seriously made my skin crawl and it is ok to feel that way and likely your own instinctive warning bells going off. That it is totally ok for your child (or any child) to refuse to hug or kiss the assorted relatives that they don't know just because they aren't comfy.  I always hated that "go around the room and kiss everyone good-bye" routine growing up because I did not know these people and did not feel comfy with them that close to me.  I'm not at all a touchy feely person so having to force myself to go through that always made me feel uncomfortable.  It still does when visiting relatives try the same routine.  I've always told our kids they don't have to hug or kiss any relative ever.  They have some relatives that seem to respect that and understand a child's natural wariness but they have others who always swoop down on them and demand that kiss and hug because "I'm so and so" when the truth is that the child rarely sees you and is not comfy with you in their space yet.  Anyway, I'm enjoying the book and am grateful for the reminders that we really do need to listen to and stay in tune with our own internal warning signs.  And to teach our kids to listen to their own internal warning signs and give them the right to say no to any unwanted invasion of their space, whether it is a physical one or not.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Happy Birthday Katie

Katie turned 7 on Tuesday.  It was kind of a low key day since many of the other kids were sick and I think Katie was just starting to get sick herself.  Which is never a great way to spend your birthday.
She picked out a great cake and treated us all to dinner out.
Katie is, frankly, my kind of girl.  Not too girly and she holds her own with her brothers easily.  The only older brother she cannot outrun is Sean is she's always just a few seconds behind him.  It irritates her that he keeps winning so I have a feeling it won't be long before she pushes herself to beat him.  She's a wonderful big sister and has already mastered the art of carting a baby around on her hip.  Everywhere we go people are always remarking about how she looks just like me.  But she gets her love to Star Trek from her Dad I think which is only fitting considering how much of a Daddy's Girl she is at the moment.  Love you lots little Lady and I hope you had a great day.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

New Pictures

I got another email offer for free pictures so I took Katie and Bryan this time.  I'm working on slowly getting "not back to school" pictures of all the kids but trying to bide my time and get coupons/discounts for all of them.  I suppose I may just bite the bullet and take several of the kids in for the photo package deals where you pay $8 and get a ton of pictures in one pose.  But you can only take one child at a time for those so that would be way too many appointments.  Anyway, here's the link. Enjoy.

We're in the Paper

For those who aren't on Facebook, just wanted to share this article.  A nice positive piece on large families featuring amazingly enough 3 homeschooling families.  I found it just a little funny that the author didn't mention that connection.

Legacy of Love

I've been reading the book Legacy of Love: Biblical Wisdom for Parenting Teens and Young Adults for a while now.  Ok, I've been struggling in my efforts to get through the book. For quite a while.  Much longer than it usually takes me to get through a book of this size. Much, much longer.

Our first child is an official teen now and our second is nipping at his heels.  This reminds me that our time together with all of our children living under one roof is going to quickly come to an end.  This in turn motivates me to seek out the wisdom of those who have gone before me in this teen parenting thing and try to glean ideas that will help us to guide our children and give them roots they will be proud to call their own.  Kimberly Hahn is rather well-known in the Catholic homeschool parenting realm which is why I wanted to get her insight on this topic.  Sadly, I'm not sure I gained much of anything from reading this book.

I'm sure hidden in this book are some very wonderful, insightful suggestions.  I'm sure there is a wealth of information to be shared.  I'm equally sure that I could not wade my way past the preachy life is full of roses and you just have to do things the way we did them and everything will be great attitude to search them out.  I truly felt as if the tone of the book was one that talked down to me.  I'm not one who finds that kind of tone fun in a book.  It really made it hard for me to take much of what she had to say seriously.  I will admit that I will give the book another try in a few more weeks to see if there is something I was missing.

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 Legacy of Love :Biblical Wisdom for Parenting Teen. They are also a great source for a Catechism of the Catholic Church or a Catholic Bible.

Monday, October 3, 2011

What We Have Been Doing

So far we have managed to can 15 quarts of applesauce, 6 pints of salsa and 23 pints of various jams and jelly.  I have a batch of apple butter in the crock pot right now and we'll be making more salsa and red pepper spread tonight.  I really need to can the peaches before Ellie attacks them again.  She's having a bit too much fun now that she is a mobile child.  And find a freezer friendly recipe for all of the eggplant we were given.

I am starting to debate a pressure canner now because I would love to be able to can vegetables.  Truthfully we really need to get serious as a family about putting in a large garden. There is no real sense in having all this land if we aren't using it properly and with grocery prices continuing to climb higher each week, we can use all the help we can get with stretching the budget a wee little bit.

I am attempting to win the battle against the laundry in the house but frankly not doing a great job.  I do think part of the answer will simply lie in letting go of so many of the hand-me-downs and extra clothes.  I keep working on that a little at a time and I think it may be time to force myself to get a bit drastic about the clothes in the house.

We're scheduling field trips all over for the next few weeks.  We currently have a trip to the apple farm, fire station, Old Fort Niagara and LEGOLand in the works.  Yes, one of those huge benefits of homeschooling is that you can take as many field trips as you feel will benefit your kids and not be tied down to books or extra regulations.  Combine that with the group discounts and we have very affordable opportunities for the kids.  The LEGOLand tickets were only $5 a person when booked as a educational tour.  Seriously, you can't beat that.

The book work is proceeding at a slow and steady pace.  Progress is being made by everyone although not everyone is progressing at the same rate.  Frankly, I can live with that.

So I guess everything is about normal around here.