Taking Life One Step At A Time

Taking Life One Step At  A Time

Monday, December 22, 2014

Last Minute FREE Stocking Stuffers

Christmas is only a few days away. Hopefully you've made good headway on your shopping, cards, baking, and preparations. But if you're like me, you may look through your stash of stocking stuffers to find you're a bit short.

What to do?

Here's a simple idea that takes little time but will be appreciated by kids. Plus, it has the bonus of being tailored to your specific children and is limited only by your own creativity!

This year I made about 10 special coupons for each of my older kids. I had fun thinking of things they'd really like ... or things they'd enjoy NOT having to do.

Here's what a few of my coupons looked like. I wrote them with specific names on each one so that the kids won't be able to trade them. No fair suckering a younger sibling to give up a movie night in exchange for one less chore!

Other ideas include things like a special date with mom or dad where the kid picks the activity or food, getting out of cleaning the basement (which is our toy abyss), inviting a friend over for the afternoon, and some extra time for video games. Since we homeschool I was even able to put in a coupon for skipping one subject on a particularly frustrating school day.

But this is my particular favorite:

Have fun with it! It's a free and fun way to add a personal touch to your gift giving. It'll show your kids how well you know them and can even set you up for some special moments with them.

Merry Christmas!

Friday, September 26, 2014

Potty Train Quickly and With Minimal Stress

Image from adventureswiththepooh.wordpress.com

I'll start right out with this: I hate potty training. With child number five I spent several weeks in denial before finally admitting that the day to start was staring me right in the face. But I'm about to let you in on a little secret about potty training. It can be done with just one seriously intense day and about a week of reminders for your little one.

The first thing we've done is let go of the expectation that our 18 month old or 2 year old will potty train successfully. We wait until our kids are three years old. This is especially for boys, but I'd wait with girls until at least closer to 2 1/2. There are several cognitive abilities that need to be developed before children are ready to train. They must be able to hear, remember, and obey at least three simple directions at once. So, something like, "Run to the potty, pull down your undies, and pee," must be a reasonable request.

(A lot of people talk about using peeing dolls to aid in their child's understanding. Hogwash! Why go and buy an expensive doll that drinks and pees when you can just set your child up in the bathroom with Mom or Dad (depending on the sex of your child) to watch an actual live person? Dolls are great for pretend, but you want your child to go potty in reality. So show them how.)

We begin by really talking up the potty experience long before we actually start using the potty. We build anticipation and talk about how diapers are for babies and undies are for big boys/girls. We let our child watch us go potty to get an idea of what he'll be doing. And we talk about it in excited tones and with big smiles.

On the day of, we take off the diaper in the morning and congratulate our child on becoming a big boy. It is absolutely crucial to this method that you switch completely to underwear! Even at bedtime. Yes, it sounds painful for mom and dad, and it can be, but it is necessary to give the message that they are no longer a baby and only wear underwear.

We take our child to the potty. Most of our boys have started out by standing. Three year old boys are typically just the right height to stand at the potty. They don't need to direct their pee because it just heads straight into the toilet. We've had one boy prefer to start sitting, but within a week he was willing to try standing. Sometimes, putting cheerios into the toilet for boys to aim at can be very helpful. Girls are easier because they don't have to aim. Sit them on the seat and let them go!

One tip I haven't personally tried but have heard works well is turning children to face the back of the toilet when sitting. It allows them to hug the tank and feel more secure on the toilet. I typically let my children hug me if they feel insecure, so I haven't tried turning them around, but it sounds like a great idea (and a back saver for mom!).

It may take a few times of trying before your child really gets the feeling of going potty. We had one child try for the entire day and finally at 8pm went 9 times in a row in the potty. What a relief! Most kids don't take that long.

You begin by first having your child feel the front of their undies. You ask if the undies are dry or wet and he will reply with dry. You praise him for having dry undies! Explain that dry undies are comfortable and that dry undies are what we want to have. Have your child try to go potty. Even if they can't yet, it's okay. Tell them that you are proud of them for trying. Since their undies are dry, let them have a treat. My kids love candy and it's a rarity in the house. We just put out a bowl of m&m's and whenever they have dry undies, they get one.

Set your timer for 10 minutes and let your child play. At the end of 10 minutes, go to your child and have them check their undies. Are they dry or wet? If dry, praise them and bring them to the bathroom to try going. If they have stayed dry through trying, give them a treat.

If your child is able to actually pee into the toilet, throw a party! Call a family member or friend who will celebrate on the phone with you. Clap and cheer and make a huge deal out of it. Give the child 2 m&m's for going in the potty.

Continue to set the timer for every 10 minutes that first day. It's a long day. Long. It may be wise to begin on a day when your spouse can relieve you from potty duty halfway through the day. If you have older children, involve them in the process.

It WILL happen that your child will wet in their underwear. When you ask your child to check their undies and the response is that the undies are wet, the real work begins. This is the time to practice getting to the potty. Voice your dismay at wet undies. Explain that when he needs to pee, he should run to the bathroom. Then say, "Let's practice!" Grab his hand and run with him to the bathroom. Pull down the wet undies and have him try going. If he can't pee (which he usually can't because he's just gone in his undies), pull up the wet underwear. Leave the wet undies on! This sounds awful, but it's a key part of the training. Go to a different spot in the house and start the exercise over again. Ask if the undies are dry. Of course, you'll get the answer that they aren't. Remind your child that when he needs to pee, he must run to the bathroom. Run with him and have him try to go again. Do this 10 times. Yes, 10 times.

At first, your child will think this is a fun game. After a few times of wet underwear, he'll hate it and so will you. But it very clearly sends the message that wet undies are undesirable. He'll very quickly learn that it's worth it to get to the potty before he pees.

Once the practice is done and you've accomplished your 10th try of running to the bathroom, you give your child fresh, dry underwear. Then have him check and praise him for having dry undies. Give him an m&m. If at any time during the practice he is able to get some pee into the potty, praise him and discontinue the practice. Give him fresh undies and a treat.

I have trained 5 children with this method and all have been using the potty consistently by the end of the first day. Typically they still have about one accident a day for the first three or four days. When your child takes himself to the bathroom without any prompting, you can consider him trained. That sometimes takes up to a week. Until then, continue prompting, but stretch the amount of time between prompts.


Push the fluids on the day of potty training. The more your child drinks the more opportunities for success they will have.

Have a special treat for bowel movements. These are sometimes scary for kids, so promising a really special treat can help them buck up their courage.

Plan to be home for about a week. Until your child is really comfortable with using the bathroom in your home, you shouldn't introduce a different bathroom. And for a long time (months), any time you go out, point out where the bathroom is immediately upon arriving at your destination.

Fill the day with positives. The practice times are hard emotionally. Be sure that you are filling up your child with positive remarks all day long. And maybe order in pizza as a positive for you!

Set a flannel backed plastic tablecloth underneath your child's bedsheet. Bed wetting will happen in the beginning. Be prepared with extra sheets, underwear, and a blanket on hand.

Plastic underwear covers are your friend. If potty training in the summer, beware that these cause your child to sweat. But these will keep most of the pee in the underwear cover instead of on the bed. And it allows your child to still feel the sensation of wetness intead of absorbing it like a diaper or pull up would.

Have patience, and take this all with a grain of salt. With six kids, I now know that there is no formula to parenting. What works for your friend's kids may not work for yours. And what works for one child in a family may not work for their siblings. With that said, please recognize that while this method has worked for five of my children, please do not use it if you feel it won't work for yours. You know your children best!

Good Vibes, Positive Thoughts, and Prayer

Image from pinterest.com

A friend posted something on facebook the other day asking for prayer about an upcoming trial in life. Several people chimed in offering their support through prayer and many sent well wishes. Others said they'd be sending good vibes and positive thoughts. All mean well, but it has me wondering something. Just what will good vibes and positive thoughts do for this friend of mine?

Oh sure, she might be encouraged to know her friends are thinking of her. It's always nice to know that people care about you. But really, when the tough day comes, how will those good vibes help her?

As Christians, it's really easy to say, "I'll pray for you," whenever a friend expresses a need. But it's time to evaluate. Are we really doing what we promise?

When I first moved to St. Louis, a very wise woman shared with me that she had decided to forego using the phrase "I'll pray for you." Instead she would take the friend or acquaintance aside and pray for and with them on the spot. She didn't wait. She said, "Let's pray about that now." If the opportunity to pray at that moment wasn't feasible, she had a different phrase. She'd say, "I'll pray for you whenever the Lord brings you to mind." Now that's a promise you can keep!

The Bible tells us that prayer is the most powerful tool we have. It gives us direct access to GOD!! When we pray, we are going before the throne of the living God. We are placing our friends, our loved ones, those we meet, and even some we've never encountered, into the Lord's hands. We are recognizing His authority and His power. And if you want to understand the power of prayer, just read a few accounts in the Bible. Passages such as when Abraham prayed for the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 18), times when Moses prayed for the Israelites (Exodus 32), Hannah's prayer for a child (1 Samuel 1), Paul and Silas's prayer in prison (Acts 16). God hears our prayers and he answers.

Which brings me back to these good vibes and positive thoughts. If prayer is the tool that brings us and our loved ones into the presence of Almighty God, what do these vibes and thoughts do? Are thoughts the same as prayers?

I have to say that thoughts aren't the same as prayer. I used to trick myself into thinking that if I had thought much of someone during the day, it equated to me having prayed much for them. But that's a nasty little trick the father of lies wants us to believe. It keeps us from actually spending time in prayer to God. Prayer is a conversation with God. Thinking is a conversation with oneself. Thinking of a person is great ... for you. But it does nothing to improve anything for the other party. Of course, you could easily make a case that thinking of someone leads you to check in on them and offer help. If that actually happens, then kudos to you! But I know that in my own life, it is a rare friend who offers to pray and then will actually follow up with questions or a phone call days later. If thinking leads you to action, that's terrific. But it's still not as powerful as prayer.

I'm not even sure where to go with the good vibes thing. I'm guessing that thought emerges from the belief that we are all connected by our energy. If I think positively of you (sending you good vibes) then you'll somehow subconsciously pick up on that positive vibration and it will have a good effect on your body/mind/soul. Honestly I don't get it. I could sit in the living room sending positive vibes to my cranky toddler all day long and it won't improve his mood. He'd simply think I was being a selfish and neglectful mommy sitting alone on the couch while he has needs in the other room.

Friends, can we do this: when we want to positively impact someone, let's actually do the monumental and life-changing task of praying for them. Stop sending vibes and thoughts that are only impacting you. Take your friends before the throne of grace and put them and their needs into the hands of the Creator. Far more will be accomplished. It doesn't take much time; it doesn't have to be long. You don't have to be on your knees or in a quiet place. Pray with out ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17). Can you imagine what could be accomplished if we actually took that to heart? Oh, that it would be so!

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Ordinary Grows Beauty

I recently watched this video promoting Francis and Lisa Chan's book "You and Me Forever".

The video features our friends, Mike and Sharon, who, after having three children went on to adopt nine more. Their children are growing up and some have reached adulthood and are doing amazing things for the Kingdom of God. It's easy to look at their family and think that their life must be charmed. But I know they have faced plenty of hardships and difficulties. Sharon says it in her own words in the video and this particular quote stuck with me long after the video stopped playing.

"Serving God takes a lot of submission and a lot of repetitious, unglamorous work. I think people can look at our family and see 12 vivacious kids and think, 'Wow! What a beautiful thing!' But that involved years and years of doing the same thing over and over again. You have to be willing to make yourself nothing sometimes and then He blesses those efforts in the end and makes it into something beautiful."

I love this quote because it so well describes what life really is. Behind every person doing great things for the Lord is a lot of day in and day out faithfulness. It takes me straight to the verse I have adopted as my motto for these years with children at home. "Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin." (Zechariah 4:10) And this, "Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more." (Luke 12:48)

Probably very few of those reading this will have 12 kids like the Dennehy clan. And none of us will have identical lives to each other. But each of us has been given much with which to be faithful. Perhaps it's your work, your family, your possessions, your ministry, your friends. We all have small beginnings in our lives; areas in which we are called to work faithfully. Things that require day in and day out, over and over again actions. Things that can seem monotonous, dull, and frustrating in the moment.

Whether or not you look closely enough at someone's life to see the mundane, it is there. I know it is present in my life. The question then is not, "Will I have to do the mundane, ordinary things to serve God?" The question is, "How can I be faithful in doing the mundane and ordinary?"

The answer? Keep on. Do the next thing and practice thankfulness. Remember your blessings and from whom they come. Be faithful even in these little things and God will make something beautiful out of the ordinary.

High Rise Apple Pancakes

It's the time of year for apples. Apple pie, apple crisp, applesauce, apples with caramel ... there are so many delicious things to do with apples!

One of our favorites is a little known recipe for High Rise Apple Pancakes also sometimes called German Apple Pancakes. They are simple to make and soooo good as a dinner, breakfast, or dessert.

You may want to double the recipe though, because it's hard to eat just one helping!

High Rise Apple Pancakes:
(serves 3-4)

Heat oven to 450 degrees with a large cast iron pan (if you have one) in the oven.
(If doubling the recipe, use two pans)

While the oven is heating, prepare the batter and topping.

2 eggs slightly beaten
1/2 C flour
1/2 C milk
1/4 t salt
1 T butter
Combine ingredients and beat until smooth.

When the oven reaches 450 degrees, coat skillet with butter; immediately pour in the batter.
Bake in the lowest rack of the oven at 450 for 10 minutes. Reduce heat to 350; bake for 10 minutes.

While the batter is cooking, cook the topping.

1/4 C butter
1/2 t cinnamon
4-6 C apples, sliced
1/2 C sugar

Melt butter in skillet over low heat. Add apple mixture; cover and cook until apples are tender while the batter is cooking in the oven.

When the batter is done, pull it out of the oven. Slice and serve covered with apple mixture. Serve immediately.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Canning Green Beans

This year we were blessed with a bumper crop of green beans. We typically plant bush beans, but for several years we've struggled to get a good crop. After tender care of our plants and lots of hopeful waiting we ended up swimming in beans!

So, what to do with all of them? I love raw and cooked green beans, but there's only so many you can eat in one summer. We choose to can our green beans. It's a great fresh veggie to have all winter long and it makes for a simple side dish to throw together.

After harvesting your beans, you'll want to snap the ends off. Just the very tip of the end is all you need to pull off. As you can see by the picture, little helpers do tend to remove a little more than necessary. But it's always great for them to help out. And beans provide an excellent way for little ones to stay busy.

Once the ends are removed, wash your beans well. Then snap them into 1" sections. It's not necessary that they be perfectly even. But the more uniform they are the more evenly they will cook. These were snapped by my 2 year old. (I evened them out later!)

Once the beans are all snapped, pack them into jars. We use quart jars, but if you have a small family, pints may work better. You can really pack them in tightly.

After getting your jars filled, add in 1 teaspoon of salt per quart. Use 1/2 teaspoon for pint jars.

Fill the jars with water leaving about 1/2" headspace.

Screw on your lids and rings. Place in a pressure canner and process at 10 pounds pressure for 25 minutes (quarts) or 20 minutes (pints).

Remember: DON'T open your pressure canner until the pressure returns to zero. Otherwise you'll end up with burst jars.

Happy canning!

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Rhubarb Desserts

Rhubarb season is quickly drawing to a close. Tonight I used up the last bit of mine by making two of our favorite rhubarb dishes. One we enjoyed for dessert and I sent the other along with Josh to his Bible study tonight. I sure hope there's a bit left for me to enjoy once he gets home!

Both recipes came from dear friends at our church. I love to think of them whenever I bake these delicious desserts.

Barb's Blueberry Rhubarb Crisp

2-3 C blueberries (frozen or fresh)
2-3 C rhubarb
(I rarely measure these. I just dump until the bottom of a 9x13 pan looks full)
1/2 C flour

**If you choose to just use rhubarb and no blueberries use 4 cups of rhubarb, 1/4 cup of flour, and 1 cup of sugar. With the blueberries you really don't need any sugar.**

Mix flour and fruit in a greased 9x13 pan.

For the topping:
1 C brown sugar
1 C oats
1 1/2 C flour
1 C butter

Mix the ingredients together with a pastry cutter until crumbly. Sprinkle over top of the fruit.

Bake at 375 for 45 minutes. Serve warm with vanilla ice cream.

Grandma Mary's Rhubarb Cake

1 yellow cake mix prepared according to box directions.
Spread cake mix in a greased 9x13 pan.

Over top of the unbaked cake mix spread the following mixture:

2 1/2 C rhubarb
1 1/2 C sugar
1 C heavy cream

Mix these ingredients together before spreading over cake batter. If desired you can include a little cinnamon or nutmeg.

Bake at 350 until the cake tests done. This will typically take a little longer than the box indicates.

The rhubarb will be on the bottom of the cake. And the cream will have created an incredibly moist cake.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Strawberry Freezer Jam

So many people have asked how I make strawberry jam. If you have some extra freezer space this recipe is my favorite. It stays a beautiful pink/red color and is a taste of fresh strawberries throughout the year.

I simply use the recipe for freezer jam found in the PINK box of Surejell. I always buy the pink box because the resulting jam isn't overly sweet. Strawberries fresh from the garden are sweet enough on their own.

Clean and remove the tops from about 4 cups of strawberries.

About one cup at a time, mash the strawberries with a hand masher. Jam should have chunks, so don't worry about getting your strawberries completely mashed.

Continue to add berries and mash until you have EXACTLY 4 cups. Measurements are very important in making jam if you want it to set properly, so measure carefully.

In a bowl combine 3 cups of sugar and one package of the surejell (pink box). Mix well. Then pour it into a saucepan and add 1 cup of water. Place on medium high heat until the mixture begins to boil. Be sure to stir CONSTANTLY throughout the cooking process. Once the sugar water begins to boil, time it for 1 minute, stirring all the while.

After the minute is up, remove the pan from the heat. Add the berries and stir for one minute.

Ladle the mixture into jars and cover with lids.

These jars will need to sit at room temperature for about 24 hours before going into the freezer or fridge. This will ensure that the jam sets up well.

The jam can be frozen for a year or kept in the fridge for 3 weeks.

If for some reason your jam doesn't set up, you can always use it on ice cream or in other desserts. Don't throw it out! But if you follow these directions, you really shouldn't have any issues.

Hope you enjoy it!

Monday, June 16, 2014

A fresh bit of summer all year long!

I LOVE strawberry rhubarb pie. In fact, I think it's my absolute favorite kind of pie. I always get a little jealous of my family members with June birthdays because they can choose it for their birthday dessert. But my birthday is in December and every year I long for the taste of summer on my special day.

Until this year I hadn't found a good way of preserving strawberries and rhubarb. I've tried freezing the fruit separately, but both end up watery once defrosted. I've been leery of canning the pie filling because the recipes I find are so different from my tried and true pie filling. Plus, in the pictures I've seen of canned pie filling the fruit is always a little off color.

This year I stumbled across this blog on pinterest. The author claimed that creating the pie filling and then freezing it fully prepared in a ziploc bag would work. I was a bit skeptical, but decided to try it.

Oh my, delicious!

I froze two pie fillings. I then waited a week before defrosting and baking. The pies were amazing. The first one turned out a little watery so with the second I simply drained off a little of the excess liquid. It set up so well and was incredibly good. Today I made five more batches to save for winter. I can't wait to pull them out of the freezer and enjoy the taste of fresh summer fruit in the dead of winter.

Here's how:

Step 1: Harvest your rhubarb and your strawberries.
(You really don't want to wait too long to get to your rhubarb. If it has holes in the insides of the stalks, you've waited too long. It can end up with a "woody" taste if you wait too long.)

Step 2: Chop your berries and rhubarb into small pieces. About 3 cups of each.

Step 3: Add in the sugar and flour. Allow the ingredients to maserate (mix) for about 20 minutes. You will no longer notice the sugar and flour as you stir, but instead will see a bit of syrup forming around the fruit.

Step 4: Place the mixture in a freezer bag. I highly recommend getting a vacuum sealer like this one. Ziplocs work but will allow freezer burn after an extended time in the freezer.

Step 5: Once ready to make a pie, simply defrost your bag, remove a little bit of the excess liquid, make a pie crust and bake.
(For best results, allow your pie to set overnight. The filling will thicken and you'll have a perfect pie in the morning.)

(photo credit)



3C strawberries, cut
3C rhubarb, cut
2/3 C flour
2 C sugar

Mix the ingredients in a large bowl. Pour into prepared crust.

Top and Bottom Pie Crust:

2 C flour
1 stick + 2 T butter (not margarine!)
1 t salt
6 T very cold water

Mix all with a pastry cutter or by hand. Divide in half and turn out onto a floured surface. Roll out a bottom and top crust. Place bottom crust in the pie pan, fill with pie filling, cover with top crust. Turn excess crust under around all the edges to seal the pie. Flute with a fork or spoon. Poke a few holes in the top of the pie.

(It's always a good idea to bake a pie on top of a cookie sheet in case any filling oozes out.)

Bake at 425 degrees for 55 minutes.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

A Room for the Lego Enthusiast

Little plastic bricks of varying shapes and sizes. Red, yellow, green, blue, gray, black, and white. Hair pieces, heads, weapons, legs, and head gear. Wheels and gears, windows and doors.

If you know what I'm talking about then you must have at least one lego enthusiast in your home. I have six, counting my husband and not yet counting our youngest child! Lego has exploded in my home. My children save money to buy lego, they ask for it for gifts, and a visit to a lego store is like stumbling upon the holy grail.

With so many lego enthusiasts, we decided to swap out our guest room for a lego room. About a year and a half ago we made the switch and I have never done a better thing for my sanity. For the most part, we let the kids go wild in there. They rarely clean it, and aside from our board games and a file cabinet, the room is completely devoted to lego. Lego is expected to stay in the lego room. No more vacuuming little pieces, no more death by lego for unsuspecting feet.

We began by putting a large table in our lego room (see pic above). It was our old kitchen table. We figured the kids would be able to use the surface for building and keep most lego off the floor. Wrong! Instead, they all fought over the space on the table. One would start a big project and then the others wouldn't have room for their buildings. We have now moved to a different solution.

We purchased six of these end tables from Ikea for $7.99 each.

To spruce them up a bit, I painted each child's initial on a table. That way we can avoid all the squabbles over who gets to build where. Each child now has their own place to build.

Originally, we had also put up a long shelf in the lego room. This was for those special projects that the kids just weren't ready to tear apart yet. Our kids are really into Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, and The Hobbit. So naturally they have purchased many sets from those movies. Instead of building the sets once and then tearing them apart, we allow them to keep the sets on the shelf and bring them down for play. As they find they don't play with particular sets, they can pull them apart and place the pieces in a labeled ziploc bag. That way each kid knows which sets are theirs and they also keep all the pieces together. As adults they can either bring those lego sets to their own households or they can choose to sell them online. (We also keep the original boxes flattened in storage in case the kids want to sell the sets someday.) We found recently that one shelf was not quite enough, so we added a second.

Now, here's the part that really is up to individual preference. How do you store all the lego?? We used to keep our lego in a giant rolling toolbox. The special pieces went in the top compartments and the rest was in a big jumble. Our kids grew very frustrated wanting to find specific pieces but having to look through such a large mass of lego. In setting up our lego room, we decided to organize by type. We went to Menards and bought this wall system.

Originally we used double sided tape to place a piece of each type on the front of each container so the kids would know where things went. Those pieces have long since fallen off, but the kids still remember where the pieces belong. They have sorted them by size (1x4, 2x1, 4x4, etc) and by type (windows and doors, people, weapons, gears, etc.). It works well for us and is actually the way the professionals sort their lego.

We also have this little set of drawers to keep specialized parts in.

Lastly, we keep binders full of the directions that come with various sets. Without a specific place for these, we found that direction packets would often get trampled underfoot and end up ripped or crumpled. That just results in frustration for everyone!

We love the function of our lego room. And as a mom, I love the creativity that I see in my kids through what they build. If allowed, our kids would spend hours upon hours playing with lego. It has cut down on our kids' desire for video games and other less-healthy play. And it allows their imaginations to run wild.

Do you have specific ways to deal with the lego monster at your house? I'd love to hear about it!

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Monthly Grocery Planning

We are a family of 8. We go through at least one gallon of milk a day, two loaves of bread every three days, and a bunch of bananas in one sitting. And we strive to live on a budget. We are a meat and potatoes kind of family. We enjoy all the food groups and don't partake in any fad diets. We simply eat healthy and in moderation. Even so, it's a lot of food!

Our oldest kids are entering the teen years and all six seem to grow non stop. I can't begin to count the number of times a day I hear the words, "I'm hungry". So, how do we keep our kids fed and not bust the budget? I can't give credit to couponing, because I really just don't take the time to do it. While I love the idea of coupons, I find that I end up buying unnecessary items just because I can get them cheap. In reality it doesn't really end up saving me money. Many people can do it well, but not me.

Instead of using coupons, we are careful list makers. We do our big grocery shopping once a month and aside from trips to the store for milk and produce, we agree to live on what we've purchased at the beginning of the month. I'll be honest, this takes a lot of planning and consideration. But you'll also find that it drastically cuts down on eating out and last minute runs to the store where buying just that one needed item is exchanged for a handful of things that look good.

So, to the nitty gritty details:

At the start of the month, I sit down with our family calendar and our meal calendar. Our meal calendar is just a regular 12 month calendar that hangs on our fridge. We write in each square what we plan to eat for dinner that evening. As I plan out our days, I keep our family calendar in front of me so that I can easily see what evenings may be rushed, when we have dinner with friends planned, when I may need to cook for a potluck or large event, etc. Now that our soccer season is starting back up, I am careful to plan crock pot meals on practice days so that my son can have a warm meal after his dinner-time practice. I know that Sundays are a time when my kids come home from church STARVING, so I either plan to have something cooking while we're at church or plan a meal that can be put together quickly once we arrive back home.

As a side note, I don't often plan out the sides for our meals unless it's a side I rarely make or if I'm hosting guests or planning a holiday feast. We keep lots of canned and frozen veggies and fruit on hand from our summer garden. I simply use these to supplement our meals.

Once my meal plan is complete, I begin a list of the basics we'll need. This usually means that I write down the various types of meats, noodles, canned goods, breads, etc. that we'll need and then count up how many of each I need for the meals planned that month. This is the most important stage of the process. Careful list making is necessary so that you are sure to have the ingredients on hand when you make meals throughout the month.

After I've made a list of the basics, my husband and I go through the freezer and pantry together. We take into account the things that we already have in on hand. Last month we found a great sale on chicken breasts so we purchased MANY and didn't have to buy any for this month's meals. If we find something during this process that needs to be used in the near future, I may adjust a meal on the calendar to fit it in. Better to adjust and use the things you already have than to waste the money and have it go bad.

We typically do our household goods shopping at the same time as our grocery shopping. So I also take the time to go through our bathrooms, kitchen, and storage areas to check on things like paper towels, detergent, toilet paper, napkins, dish soap, shampoo, etc. These things all come out of our grocery budget so it's important to plan for these items as well.

Aside from the actual shopping, the job is nearly done. I make one more neat list to take to the store. This one is laid out by department - produce, meat, dairy, frozen, etc. It makes it simpler to find the things I need in the store and to make sure they get crossed off my list. Especially if we are shopping at several stores in one day.

I know this leaves some questions unanswered. I'll do my best to answer the ones I can think of:

Where do you shop?
We shop in several places. We have a Sams membership and buy a lot of bulk items there. (Buying in bulk is definitely cost effective if you'll use the items in a timely way and can store it in your house.) We also like Aldi's. They actually have really good bread, yogurt, cheeses, and produce. I can't vouch for the meat, although I've heard some say that it's great. We just haven't tried it yet. We purchase our milk, oj, bananas, onions, and potatoes at Kwik Trip (gas station). They have milk and oj in a bag - which is so much cheaper and more convenient to store - and a rewards card so that you save quite a bit of money. We have our own chickens, so we never need to purchase eggs. We also buy several things at the Bent and Dent (Amish run store) nearby. If you have a Bent and Dent, check it out! I wouldn't recommend things like pasta or mixes that are not kept in a sealed plastic bag. However for cereal, medicines, canned goods, etc. it is an invaluable source! We can buy a large box of Cheerios there for $1.50 and a box of flavored oatmeal for $.75. That's a great deal!

How do you store all this stuff?
We've allotted a few shelves in our basement as grocery shelves. It's also where we keep our canned goods from the garden. One of our kids loves to organize, so he keeps it all sorted for us.

Isn't it a pain to be locked into your meal plan each day of the month?
I wouldn't say we're locked in. We do try to use the plan we have, but if I find we're not in the mood for something or if we need to change things around it's not a big deal. Once you've purchased what you need for the month, you just defrost or pull out what you need for any of the meals on the list. You only want to be careful that you're not stuck with tacos three times in the last week because you've switched things around so much.

How much do you spend?
The amount we spend varies each month. It really depends on how much we already have in store before the month begins (like with the chicken) and where we shop. Depending on where we purchase various items our bottom line looks different each month. (That may not be a satisfying answer, but the answer to this question will vary for each family. Just because one person can shop for a family of four on $60 per week doesn't mean every family of four can.)

How do you keep from overspending?
This is probably a whole blog post in and of itself! We use cash. At the beginning of the month we allot a specific amount to groceries. If we run out, then we make do with what we have. If we have extra it's exciting to put it towards our savings at the end of the month.

Would this work for a small family?
Absolutely! This kind of meal planning is great because you can tailor it to your family and your calendar. And it's great for a home with two working parents. It allows you to avoid the evening squabble over dinner plans and the financial strain of eating out frequently.

Happy planning! If you have tips on grocery shopping and meal planning, I'd love to hear them!

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Why Worship?


I was glad when they said to me, "Let us go to the house of the LORD!" - Psalm 122:1

I've been thinking about this verse for many months now. If I'm honest, I can say that there have been many weekends that start with gladness and end with grumbling. My time at church begins with thoughts of joy to be in the Lord's house and end with complaints about my children. I typically end up sitting downstairs watching the service on a TV screen, nursing a baby and trying to contain a toddler with a quiet activity so that I can actually hear the sermon.

You'd think that with two services per weekend and the pastor available in my own home I'd be able to somehow eek out a full sermon's worth of listening. But week after week passes and when we arrive home I find myself venting frustration to my husband about how little I get out of the church service. I am a single parent in the pew as my husband preaches and leads the service. And sometimes I feel like my six children gang up on me!

In the last few weeks alone my children have broken two pews, ripped a hymnal, drawn in a church Bible, hummed through the entire service, sprawled out in the aisle during the sermon, distracted people during the children's sermon, and run like hooligans throughout the sanctuary. We've had many friends rescue us by sitting with one of the littles. I'm so thankful for those friends!

I know some of you are commiserating with me. You have the same problem. Week after week you bring your children to church and find that you return home feeling like you've been through a war. I meet you downstairs in the fellowship hall and you're just as strung out as I am. Perhaps you've reached the point of deciding to just forego bringing your kids to church until they are older. Maybe you don't even bother to come yourself during this time of intense parenting.

I don't judge you. I get it. And some Sundays I wonder why I am doing this over and over and over again.

It all comes down to this question: Why do we worship?

Is worship for me? Is it for my children? Is it so that I can tank up to survive another hectic week? Is the reason for church attendance so that I can put a check in the box now that I've done my religious duty? Or is there something more?

If worship is about me or my children then I can say it's not working on most weekends. It can't be just to fill me up, because I am often drained from the war in the pew. If I only go to fulfill a religious duty, then it's meaningless and empty.

No, worship is not about me. Worship is for the One I worship. The songs we sing focus our hearts on Christ. They remind us of Jesus' sacrifice, God's holiness, the hope of our salvation. The study of the Word teaches us more about the God we serve and draws us closer to Him. We learn how to live our lives in accordance with God's will and are brought face to face with the beauty of Christ. Worship is about God and for God. It springs from deep within us as we are stirred by the Holy Spirit. And then there's fellowship with other believers. And while that is filling, it is also a form of worship. A time to encourage one another, share what we are learning, and share one another's burdens.

I asked my daughter what she has learned from watching me go through this stage of struggle with the little ones. Her reply was this, "I've learned that you should worship God nomatter what."

Wow! That's a profound thought for a 10 year old. And do you know when that knowledge is going to be most helpful to her? When she's facing a difficult time in life. When her heart is breaking, when her health is weak, when her finances are a mess. At those times she will remember, "you worship God nomatter what."

It reminds me of the song that my kids love to belt out at the top of their lungs: Blessed Be Your Name by Matt Redman.

Blessed be Your name
When the suns's shining down on me
When the world's all as it should be
Blessed be your name

Blessed be your name
On the road marked with suffering
Though there's pain in the offering
Blessed be your name.

Yes! That's it! We worship when it's easy and when it's hard. Circumstances don't alter our need to worship the Lord of Lords. So whether it's just you in the pew, rested and completely focused, or if there are young children wrestling noisily by your side, worship is meant to be constant.

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in ALL CIRCUMSTANCES; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. - 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The Making of a Man

In many cultures around the world, boys go through a ceremony or ritual. This is often a proving time. A time for them to demonstrate that they can take on the responsibilities of manhood. It's a setting apart. These boys begin the ceremony as a child and exit a man.

Here in the U.S. we have no such custom. We don't have special events that call boys to be young men. I think partly because of this, we see men in their twenties and even thirties clinging to the fun of boyhood, playing video games, living with Mom and Dad, shirking responsibility.

With a house full of five boys and one girl, we wanted something different for our young men. Traditionally, the age of 13 is the beginning of manhood. In the west, we've pushed that age to 18 or beyond. Society says the teen years are for experimentation, for boundary crossing, and for much indulgence. But as Josh and I anticipated the teen years, we knew we wanted to expect something different from our children than the norm.

We decided to have a ceremony to usher our oldest into manhood at the age of 13. Oh, we don't expect that he'll have it all together at such a young age. We're not kicking him out of the house or forcing him to work so he can contribute toward rent and food. Instead, we created a time for men to speak into his life, encourage him in his gifts and abilities, and push him toward great things.

On a Saturday evening shortly after our son's birthday, we invited several men to a special location. We utilized a friend's house set in a quiet, beautiful location. These men included grandfathers, elders in the church, and respected friends. All were grown men, except for our one 13 year old. All aspects of the evening were kept secret from our son until the actual time of the gathering. It was quite fun to watch his nervous excitement knowing that something special was about to happen.

We arranged a nice dinner of our teen's favorite foods. The attendees all arrived dressed in suits and ties. It was an evening clearly meant for something special. Each man was given the opportunity to share about what makes a good man. Each was able to speak directly to our 13 year old. Some shared about the leadership qualities they see in him, others told stories from their own youth. Josh talked about the legacy of our family, showing the family crest, and passing on the mantle of manhood to our son.

And then the best part. These men all gathered around our son, laid hands on him, and prayed for him. They petitioned the God of all the universe to lead, protect, and grow our son. Several men were invited from out of state and those wrote special letters containing their own words of wisdom and prayer. Those are a keepsake that our son will have to look back on to see how the prayers of these men shaped his early years of manhood.

The last aspect of the ceremony came a little late for the ceremony. We purchased a piece of armor for our son. Since he is the oldest, he received a helmet like the Romans would have worn. It is our hope to give each of our children one piece of armor as they reach their teens. Part of what we are training our children for is to be warriors in the Kingdom of God. No, not warriors with swords and shields. But warriors in a spiritual battle. Warriors who recognize that the greatest weapon is prayer; who are fitted with the spiritual armor talked of in Ephesians 6:10-20. Armor that includes the helmet of salvation, the breastplate of righteousness, the belt of truth, the shield of faith, the shoes of the gospel of peace, and the sword of the Spirit. These pieces of armor are symbolic of what is needed for our children to stand firm in their faith nomatter what may come.

It has been five months since my son's entrance into manhood. I see in him a young man eager to do great things and longing to make a difference. I love to hear his ambitions and witness his determination as he works toward those goals. He is not a typical teen. He is a young man.

(For those concerned that our daughter is missing out ... she'll also have a ceremony of some sort and receive a piece of armor. Although her ceremony is likely to be slightly different and will be attended by the important women in her life.)