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Thursday, July 31, 2014

Books I've Read: July 2014

My pile of "books" read this month.  I would guess next month's stack will include some actual paper books, but this month was all electronic.

Zero Waste Home by Bea Johnson. I read this book on my phone using my free trial of Scribd.  I used to follow the blog this book is based on, but I stopped reading it after awhile because, while I love the general concepts of a zero waste home and life, the actual content was things like appetizers made with pate and capers, and a lot of resources that are available in southern California, but not near me. The book was pretty similar.

I liked that each chapter had a list of the steps you could take based off of the 5 Rs (refusing, reducing, reusing, recycling, and rotting), and most chapters also had alphabetical lists of suggestions for steps you could take.  The book is good at inspiring a mindset of wasting less, and working to find alternatives, but not necessarily great at the specifics that will work for everyone.

"Natural resources are running out, but we buy petroleum-based products. The economy is weak, but we indulge in foreign products. Our general health is declining, but we fuel our bodies with processed foods and bring toxic products into our homes. What we consume directly affects our environment, our economy, and our health, by supporting specific manufacturing practices and creating a demand to make more."

Wither by Lauren DeStefano. I read this book on my phone using my free trial of Scribd, in one three-and-a-half hour interrupted chunk one day. I was ready to read a good dystopian work of fiction that would be fast-paced and different from the non-fiction that I had been reading. This was that mostly. It got a little slow at points, but I did wonder how it would turn out so I kept going.

I like the main character, Rhine. She kind of reminds me of Katniss in The Hunger Games, coming from a challenging life, being thrown into a world she doesn't like but also has very conflicting feelings about after awhile.  (Mild spoilers) I want to like Gabriel and the romance they're trying to create between the two of them, but it feels a little forced right now. Maybe as they continue to spend more time together it will feel more natural?

The one beef I had with this story was that the crisis of people dying at a young age from genetic mutations was never really explained. Science came up with an answer to cure cancer and deformities, but then everyone in the next generation started dying young. My hope was that the next two books would help with that (they didn't really). Overall this was a good light read, and I was able to get through it quickly, which I like from my fiction

Fever by Lauren DeStefano. I read this book on my phone using my free trial of Scribd, another one in one afternoon.  I really didn't enjoy this one. I get that it was the middle book in the trilogy, but it was such a downer. Even the few triumphs the characters had were immediately cancelled out by about five more challenges.

The other part that bothered me was that in the first book, Rhine was set up to be this strong female heroine, and in this one, she got dumb. In the first book, she was strategic and had a plan for everything, and in this one, she spent the entire time reacting to things that happened to her because she didn't consider them beforehand.

Sever by Lauren DeStefano. I read this book on my Kindle (and I actually paid for it so I could finish the trilogy!). This book was a big meh. I was hoping things would pick up after the second book, and they did, kind of, but everything resolved just a bit too perfectly, without characters even questioning things as much as they should have. They just accepted things that didn't make sense for them to accept based on what they had believed for the rest of the series.  I kept waiting for some big plot twist, or some startling turn of events, and there really wasn't anything.

Overall, the trilogy started out as an interesting concept, but I don't know that the author fleshed it out as much as she could have, and the characters were inconsistent. Definitely not my favorite, but an easy enough read to pass the time.

Uglies by Scott Westerfield. I read this book on my phone using my free trial of Scribd (can you tell I'm really trying to take advantage of this free trial?).  This is the first of a four-book series, another dystopian future one.  This time around everyone gets an operation at 16 years old to change them from "ugly" (i.e. normally flawed) to "pretty" (evolutionarily desirable).  This one focused on Tally right before her 16th birthday, and the group of rebels who don't want to be pretty.  This is another interesting concept.  How do these authors come up with these? I also appreciated that he went into detail about how some oil-mutating virus spread and made all petroleum products explode when they came into contact with oxygen.  Cool!

I didn't necessarily relate to Tally all that much, because, go figure, at 15 she's a little immature.  I'm old.  I was interested to see what happened next, and the author did a good job of keeping things moving most of the time.  Most of the characters are well-thought-out.  I didn't necessarily like or relate to them, but they were consistent and fit in the story, so that's better than some other books I've read.  Overall, the book was a decent read and I wanted to know what would happen next.  All four books were available on Scribd when I signed up, so this was another series to fly through quickly.

Pretties by Scott Westerfield. I read this book on my phone using my free trial of Scribd.  This was the sequel to Uglies, and it moved the story along.  I don't know, it wasn't as exciting as the first one.  And the pretties...they're just dumb.  They speak dumbly. They act dumbly.  And since most of the story was focused on pretties, there was a lot of dumb to get past to get to the plot points.  If you couldn't tell even from the books in this post, I usually don't enjoy middle books of trilogies/short series like this.  They seem like they lean too much on the surrounding stories and aren't strong on their own.  On to the next...

Specials by Scott Westerfield.  I read this book on my phone using my free trial of Scribd.  This was better than Pretties, although this series as a whole has not been as strong as some of the others I've read in a similar style.  It wrapped things up nicely, so I think the fourth book was not originally planned? I like that the author took Tally through the different categories of people, and I felt bad for her, because it seemed like any time she tried to fix something it backfired.  I didn't exactly like her though, and I got really annoyed by the character Shay, so that maybe made it harder to read these books.  I was curious to see if the fourth book would tie in the characters from the first three though, so I read that one too...

Extras by Scott Westerfield. I read this book on my phone using my free trial of Scribd.  This felt like a completely different story than the first three (I think it may have been an addition to the original trilogy, but I'm too lazy to go find out).  Some familiar characters eventually showed up about halfway through, but I didn't really like or connect to any of the new characters, so this was definitely a slower read than the first three.

Overall, I wasn't the biggest fan of this series.  I think the basic ideas were really cool, and I liked that some explanation was given for what happened, but I didn't really like any of the characters, and that makes it harder to get through a story.  That being said, I think this series would make an awesome summer teen movie.  There's plenty of action and opportunity for special effects, and the "pretties" part means plenty of opportunity for attractive teenagers.

Book Total for this month: 8 books read.  Total this year: 13 books read.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Iron Craft Challenge #15: Embellish

Once I read the challenge theme, I knew I wanted to do something with flowers.  I have a whole Pinterest board dedicated to crafts with flowers, after all, but I haven't done much with any of those ideas.  So I went with a simple felt flower like this one.  I sewed a button in the middle, and hot glued the whole thing to a small doily. (Side note: I have several doilies and embroidered linens from my Grandma Winter, and I haven't come up with good ideas for using them, but this worked out really nicely for the random little doily!)
 I put a safety pin on the back and voila!
And here's the flower in action.  Yes, my phone matches my shirt today. Black and white stripes are my favorite. I am a big nerd. Also, can you spot my helper in this photo? He was very curious what I was doing.
I really like how it turned out, and it will embellish lots of shirts!

Monday, July 28, 2014

On Planning For Homeschool On The Cheap

Even though we had been going back and forth on homeschooling for awhile, we didn't actually jump into the decision to do it until mid-July.  That means a little over a month of time before our tentative starting date of September 2.  A little over a month to find curriculum to use, to plan everything, to pay for everything, to figure out schedules and routines.

That's not a lot of time.

I started out by making a list of the big subjects I needed/wanted to cover (the first four are the subjects required by the state; the last three are my additions):
  • Reading/Language Arts: This includes read-aloud time, letters, grammar, phonics, spelling, handwriting, and maybe foreign languages later on.
  • Math: This will also include calendar/weather time.
  • Social Studies: This includes history, geography, and cultural concepts. Jesse will probably include some sociology in here at some point.
  • Science and Health: This includes science, P.E., and what we call life skills (cooking, gardening, etc.)
  • Music/Hymnody
  • Art
  • Bible History and Memory Work
Once I had that list, I started going subject by subject to find curriculum, a mixture of pre-K and Kindergarten materials.  Some I had an idea:
  • Reading: I want to make a list of read-alouds from several lists I have saved, and do a chapter a day, potentially with extra activities to go along with the stories.
  • Language Arts: I want to do Letter Of The Week to start, and have Handwriting and Art projects that coincide with that, as well as more reading with books that go with that letter (apple books for A and so on).
  • Art: I want to do seasonal art projects as well, which are easy to find on Pinterest, or projects that go with our Science units, or our Bible stories.  Basically art will supplement our other activities most of the time.
  • Bible History: I want something similar to Christ Light (I was going to pick Christ Light, but I'm trying to find a cheaper option), something that has Bible stories, along with activities and memory work to go with each story.
Some I had no clue:
  • Math: I need a curriculum for math, because while math in Kindergarten isn't hard, I don't know which concepts need to be covered or what order to go in.
  • Science: Ugh. My science and social studies background is not strong.
And then I went down the rabbit hole.  The Internet is a wonderful place to find everything you could possibly imagine for resources.  When you're just starting out though, you want to save everything that might be useful because you don't know yet what might be useful.  And you can't possibly save everything.  And some things only have half the material available right now and you have to come back each week for the next piece, and who is going to remember all those different places?

I want this to be inexpensive.  I am willing to spend money on curriculum that we will use, especially knowing that it will probably be used four times over (various learning styles taken into account, of course).  But right now, money is tight.  So I'm trying to find cheap and free resources for the things that I know better, so that I can spend the money on the things I don't know.  (And I know we will need plenty of paper and toner for the printer for all those free printable activities!) 
We did find several helpful resources at the library, and I'm sure there will be plenty more as we get into things.

So I'm making my lists.  Must buy this.  Would like this when we can afford this.  Will ask for this for birthdays/Christmas.  

For example, there's a fun-looking handwriting series that includes letters to trace and pictures to color, and starting in first grade, Bible verses to copy.  Each year is about $18.  But there are also many free online printables for letters, some with coloring pages, and I hope I am competent enough to find Bible passages.  So those sets will go on my "Would like this" list, but we probably won't buy them right now.  

And then there's my list of "next steps" for each subject.  Print this free planner and put it in a binder.  Get all of my links saved in one spot (or two - bookmarks on my computer and Pinterest).  Download these files.  Buy this curriculum.  Each time I accomplish something on my list I add about three more things.
Does all this seem like a lot?  My brain is overwhelmed.  Planning is hard.  If someone could just hand me the teacher's manuals and tell me to plan out the weeks, I could do that easily.  But that kind of defeats the purpose of finding the best fit for your family, one of those things I like about homeschooling.  So I soldier on.  

Once I have my curriculum set in stone, I plan on posting a listing of what we will be using, knowing that it very well may change a few weeks/months in, if we find it isn't working for us.  And my homeschooling updates should get more fun once we actually get started, hopefully with specifics about what we're doing, and what is working well (or not!).

Sunday, July 27, 2014

What I'm Reading...

Today is our 7th anniversary.  It is amazing to me how much we have grown and changed in the past seven years.  I wouldn't trade them for anything!

The Homeschooler's Little House On The Prairie Site Tour Guide. I don't think I've ever read completely through this series (although I've read the first four or five books several times).  We went to the pageant in Walnut Grove one year when I was younger, which was fun, and all of the sites listed here look cool! (Simple Homeschool)

Enough Is Enough. "But we already have enoughOnce we train ourselves to recognize this truth, we are freed from the pursuit of more, we are liberated from the bondage of discontent, and we begin to experience true freedom in our lives.(Becoming Minimalist)

Inconsistent.  I agreed with so much of this post. I am most definitely inconsistent too. (Holy Hen House)

How I Learned To Care Less About My Family And More About Myself. "Why does he get to sit on the internet for hours at a time? Why does she get to play on her DS and I can't? It's obviously not their faults, they do their best. But they are lucky in that there is a balance for them between caring for themselves and caring for others, and they are awesome because they can both do it flawlessly and without any effort. I, on the other hand, cannot." (Offbeat Home And Life)

Nine Questions To Help You Unclutter Your Recipes.  The one that especially struck me was the one about keeping recipes that you will never use for sentimental reasons, because I have a recipe box mostly full of my Grandma's handwritten card that I keep for that reason. (Unclutterer)

Friday, July 25, 2014

On Why We Are Choosing To Homeschool This Year

Now that we've officially decided to start homeschooling, several people have asked me about our decision.  Here's my answer.  We chose homeschooling because we don't have a Christian day school at our church.  The closest one is about 10 minutes away (not super far, but figuring out dropping off/picking up with other kids could get tricky), and I'm not sure of the cost, but it would cost something.

We aren't set against public schools by any means, but the focus there is so much on getting ready for tests, and starting that so young that it just seems to me like I'd rather start teaching my kids a joy for learning right away than have it drilled into their heads that they need to learn these things to pass a test.  It also allows us to include "Jesus-y" things like Bible History, hymnology, and memory work that wouldn't be in public school.

And I can do it.  Several of the bloggers I follow write about homeschooling, along with other facets of life, and some of my friends homeschool.  From the examples I've seen, and from what I know about myself, I can teach my kids.  I know them better than anyone else knows them.  I can give them semi-one-on-one time (or at least one-on-three or -four time), which is a pretty good ratio, I think.

The hard part here is that, as an introvert, I know I need a certain amount of time each day to myself.  A few minutes in the afternoon for a cup of coffee and some mindless Internet scrolling do wonders for my day.  That will be a challenge for me to work around.

There's also that whole "having a baby in November/December" thing.  I'm hoping that by then, we'll at least kind of have a routine, and subjects at least partially prepared ahead of time, so that we can keep going without taking a break.  But if we need to, one of those benefits of homeschooling is the option to choose your breaks.  So maybe we'll take a big Thanksgiving break and a shorter Christmas break.

Obviously there are pros and cons to all the schooling options, but those were the big ones for us. Cost. Distance. Love of learning vs. reiterating facts.

So now I move on to planning.  Planning is hard.  There are so many options online, which is both good and bad, because starting out is overwhelming trying to pick things, but once I get my basics covered, I think finding supplemental stuff will be really fun.  And luckily I know a few people who are farther along than I am who have been giving me great advice and guidance for figuring some things out.

From here on out, I hope to update periodically with what we're doing, and how it's going.  This first year will definitely be a learning process for all of us!

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

On Prayer, Positive Thinking, And Gratitude

I remember the first time Jesse asked me to pray with him, out loud, just the two of us.  I almost started giggling as he spouted off what sounded like a very formal, very "church-y", prayer.  He was studying to be a pastor, after all.  When he was done, I asked him if he always prayed like that.  He does.

Maybe that's normal for you, but for me, most of the time, my prayers are big long conversational rambles to God.  I talk about life, about my struggles, about things I hope for the future.  And I make sure to always start with thanks.  

This was not always habit for me.  For a long time, my prayers were mostly my complaining to God about things that had happened differently than I wanted, and wishes for things to change.  And then I read one of those "cute" little quotations that went something like this: "What if all you had tomorrow were the things you thanked God for today?".  I get the idea.  And even though I think the quotation is too broad, the meaning is perfect.

So I start my prayers by thanking God for being my Savior. That's pretty important.  I thank him for my husband, and for each of my children.  And I try to think of a specific thing for each person, whether it's something they did or said, or a new accomplishment, or a lesson they taught me - because they teach me all the time.  There is always something, usually more than one something, to be thankful for, for each one.  

And I eventually move on to general thankfulness for things that happened that day, or requests for everyone to please sleep well tonight, or prayer requests for friends or family members, or whatever else comes to mind.  But the thankfulness comes first.  

Since this happens in bed with the lights out, sometimes I drift off to sleep mid-prayer.  My rambles take awhile, and I am easily distracted by other thoughts.  But that's okay too.  I usually at least make it through my thanks, and even if I don't, God knows my thoughts.

Maybe not everyone reading this is religious.  Maybe you don't pray.  But I think this way of remembering the good things each day, this act of being thankful for specific people, for specific things from that day, is a perfect way to end any day, even the hard ones.  It puts me in a positive mindset for peaceful sleep, for waking up to start a new day at an earlier time than I might like.  It helps me remember that even though things may not be perfect, there is so much good in my life.

My prayers won't ever be mistaken for those recited in front of a church.  They might even make Jesse laugh if he were to listen to them. But they help me focus on the important things, the abundance of good in my life. And they remind me that I am so blessed.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

What I'm Reading...

I like to include the kids' art as part of our decorating, because it's cute, and it makes them feel included.  This week I finally put up a few big ribbons with some push pins, and attached their pictures with some extra clothespins.  Easy to put up, and easy to change out the creations!  Both Jonah and Matthew are just starting to draw things on their own - happy faces, suns and clouds,'s so cool to see the way they put those things onto paper!

The Problem With Little White Girls, Boys, And Voluntourism. This was an interesting take on charity/mission trips that I never really considered, but is probably really accurate. (Huffington Post)

Confessions Of A Non-Classical Reader.  I won't say I grew up reading the classics, but now that I'm an adult, there are many I can check off my list.  But I've definitely read my share of fluff too!  It's a good balance. (Simple Homeschool)

Anything Worth Doing Is Worth Doing....Poorly?  You won't get anywhere without taking some risks and failing a few times. (The Happiest Home)

How To Build A Successful "Shopping Hierarchy".  I know that if I start my grocery shopping at Aldi, and then move on to Walmart (especially with price matching), I can usually get the best prices for most things.  (The Simple Dollar)

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Weekly Coupon Shopping

This week I made use of a lot of app rebates, through iBotta, SavingStar, and Checkout 51.  I mostly use these if something pops up that I'm already buying. I just scroll through the offers before I toss my receipts, and scan accordingly.  Occasionally, though, I do plan to get some of the deals in addition to my normal shopping. This week was a mixture of both of those.

Along with our regular mid-month grocery shopping, I was able to use a few coupons to get some deals:
  • 2 Naked Juices: $2.78 each. Used two $1/1 printables, and submitted for $2.00 in iBotta rebates ($1.00 for each one) = paid $3.56/2, got $2.00 back.
  • 2 Farmland Bacon: $4.98 each. Used two $1/1 printables (zip code 85254), and submitted for $5.00 Walmart egift card rebate here (which you can do twice, so I'll probably do it again next time!) = paid $7.96/2, got $5 gift card back.
  • Angel Soft Toilet Paper 24 pack: $10.97. Used $0.55/1 printable, and submitted for $0.25 in Checkout 51 rebate = paid $10.42, got $0.25 back.
  • Bar-S Hot Dogs: $0.88. Submitted for $0.25 Checkout 51 rebate.
I was excited for this week's Walgreens deals, because they included the Starbucks Iced Coffee, which I recently tried and really like!  
  • 2 Kellogg's Cereals: $1.99 each. Used two $1.50/1 printables (Kellogg's Rewards redemption) = $0.49 each!
  • 4-pack Starbucks Iced Coffee: $3.99. Used $1/1 printable = $2.99.
  • Starbucks Iced Coffee Single: $1.99. Used $1/1 printable, and submitted for $1 SavingStar rebate = free!
  • 2 Nestle Crunch Girl Scout Bars: $0.39 each. Used $0.50/2 (SS 7/13/14) = paid $0.28/2!
  • 6 Stride and 3 Trident Gum: 3/$2, get 2,000 points when you buy $6.
  • 1 Coke: $1.69. Bought this for a friend since it has her name on it.
  • Total spent: $13.11, got back $1 SavingStar and 2,000 points.
We've been having some issues with absorbency and stink in our cloth diapers, which regular Tide is supposed to fix.  Here's hoping!  Otherwise, we normally stick to the free and clear detergents.
  • Reese's Cereal: $1.88. Used $0.60/1 printable, and submitted for $0.50 SavingStar rebate = paid $1.28, got $0.50 back.
  • 3 Kleenex 85 ct.: $0.99 each. Used $0.50/3 (SS 7/13/14), and submitted for $0.75 iBotta rebate = paid $2.47/3, got $0.75 back.
  • Tide 40oz.: $4.94. Used $1.50/1 printable = paid $3.44.
  • Also used $6.50 in ECBs = paid 1.07, got $1.25 back!
Other Coupon Shopping:
  • Kwik Trip: Used $1 off gasoline coupon I got via text. I also submitted my receipt for $0.25 back for tomatoes and $0.25 back for bananas from Checkout 51.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

On Feeding A Gluten-Free Child

Shortly after we started feeding Hannah food from the table, she started having digestive issues.  Without going into too much detail, she had a hard time pooping.  After following her diet more closely for a few weeks, I narrowed the problem down to grains, although I wasn't positive which ones.

So we eliminated.  For about two weeks, we cut out all grains.  Then we added back in oats, with no problems, and rice, with no problems.  We added back in whole wheat products, and there were the issues again.  So we eliminated them.

I've spoken with our pediatrician about this before, although we hadn't done any elimination diets yet at that point.  She pretty much told me to try what I want, and report back next time, or sooner if we had bigger issues.  I don't think this is a full-blown allergy, because there would be other issues and reactions.  And since we've eliminated gluten, I don't think we can test for an allergy or intolerance, unless we add it back in (unless I'm mistaken about how that test works?).  I plan on talking to the doctor again at our next appointment in a few weeks, but in general, simply eliminating gluten from Hannah's diet seems to have everything working fine, so I don't necessarily see a reason to test right now.

So how does that work in our day-to-day life?  In this case, I'm thankful that we have been eating fairly close to the Paleo diet at least part of the time, because those are all foods that Hannah can eat.  The times that we do have something different, such as the turkey wraps pictured above, I will give Hannah the filling/toppings, but not the tortilla (or the pizza crust, or the pasta).  If that doesn't seem like enough food, I'll add an additional fruit or veggie.  Since we only have those items a few times a month, it hasn't been that hard to adapt her plate.

Breakfast is a bit more of a challenge, since I do like to include baked goods once a week, plus cereal once or twice.  Sometimes I'll feed her eggs or oatmeal while the rest of us have the others, and we have tried a few of the gluten-free cereals like Chex, which seem to be fine.  Soon to be tried: oatmeal pancakes!  I have my tried and true recipes for pancakes and waffles, so I hadn't really looked for other ones, but baby girl should get to enjoy those too!

All in all, it's a bit more work to make sure we always have something around that Hannah can eat, but her tummy is much happier, and that's certainly worth it!

Obviously, I am not a doctor, and none of this should be taken as medical advice.  I am simply sharing what works for our family at this time.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Menu Plan July 16-31

It's time for another menu plan! I usually ask everyone if they have any meals they would like to eat this time around, and try to incorporate those.  This time Jesse actually stole my notebook and filled in several days for me!  I shifted them around a bit to fit better with weekly produce shopping, but that was a nice break for me to not have to do the whole thing!  He also made sure to inform me of the weather forecast, since the last few times I haven't looked and we've had soup on some rather warm days...Here's the plan:

Wednesday, July 16
Breakfast: Eggs and Toast
Lunch: Cobb Salads
Dinner: Ham and Bean Soup, Easy Cheesy Biscuits

Thursday, July 17
Breakfast: Leftover Muffins from the Freezer
Lunch: Cobb Salads
Dinner: Leftover Ham and Bean Soup and Biscuits

Friday, July 18
Breakfast: French Toast (with strawberries if I remember to thaw them)
Lunch: Turkey Bacon Wraps
Dinner: Roast with Potatoes and Carrots

Saturday, July 19
Breakfast: Baked Strawberry Oatmeal
Lunch: My 10 Year High School Reunion Picnic
Dinner: Leftover Roast with Potatoes and Carrots

Sunday, July 20
Breakfast: Leftover Baked Strawberry Oatmeal
Lunch: Sandwiches
Dinner: Chicken, Poblano Sweet Potatoes

Monday, July 21
Breakfast: Eggs and Leftover Sweet Potatoes
Lunch: Area Pastors Picnic
Dinner: Eggplant Lasagna

Tuesday, July 22
Breakfast: Cereal
Lunch: Leftover Eggplant Lasagna
Dinner: Black Bean Burgers, Chips

Wednesday, July 23
Breakfast: Eggs, Bacon, and Sweet Potatoes
Lunch: Sandwiches
Dinner: Chicken Fajitas (Mix is already in the freezer)

Thursday, July 24
Breakfast: Cereal
Lunch: Homemade Macaroni and Cheese, Hot Dogs
Dinner: Crockpot Italian Sausage with Peppers and Onions, Rice

Friday, July 25
Breakfast: Yogurt, Homemade Granola, Fruit
Lunch: Chicken, Black Beans, Mexi Rice
Dinner: Fish Fry (we haven't been to one for at least a few months)

Saturday, July 26
Breakfast: Eggs and Toast
Lunch: Leftover Chicken, Black Beans, and Mexi Rice
Dinner: Leftover Italian Sausage with Peppers and Onions, Rice

Sunday, July 27
Breakfast: Eggs and Toast
Lunch: Quesadillas
Dinner: Dinner out for our 7th anniversary! We might even get a baby-sitter...

Monday, July 28
Breakfast: Cereal
Lunch: Chicken and Black Bean Taco Salads
Dinner: Sausage, Egg and Cheese Sandwiches on these Biscuits

Tuesday, July 29
Breakfast: Winter Squash Hash and Eggs
Lunch: Leftover Taco Salads
Dinner: Chicken with Mushrooms and Tomatoes

Wednesday, July 30
Breakfast: Leftover Squash Hash and Eggs
Lunch: Mini Pepper Nachos (this time with a chicken and black bean mixture)
Dinner: Homemade Pizza - Chicken Bacon Ranch Mushroom

Thursday, July 31
Breakfast: Cereal
Lunch: Loaded Baked Sweet Potatoes
Dinner: Pancakes, Eggs and Bacon

Iron Craft Challenge #14: All Natural

I read the description for this challenge, to make something with natural materials, and I was stuck.  So I figured I would go with wood, because I have a big bag of old-fashioned clothespins, and a Christmas ornament, because that seems to be the kick I'm on lately.

I started with pretty simple materials: a couple wooden clothespins and a wooden circle bead, blue cloth, and hot glue.
 First I put together the baby.
 Then the Mary and Joseph.
 And the whole family!
 I call it my natural minimalist nativity scene.  Simple but cute!
Anyone else making Christmas ornaments in July?

Sunday, July 13, 2014

What I'm Reading...

It has been a busy week! We decided to homeschool Jonah this coming school year, and started looking into the details on that. I started getting rid of craft materials after realizing that I've held on to things for too long. And we had our big ultrasound for the baby and found out it's a girl! Wow! Even so, I was able to get some reading in earlier this week, and found all sorts of good things.

To Know Them Is To Love Them. "When our loved ones detect how well we're paying attention, it fuels their tanks." (The Art Of Simple)

What If We Gave Them The Benefit Of The Doubt? I've caught myself in this a lot this past week, and I'm trying to remember that my little people are just trying to figure out the world, and are not always deserving of yelling and punishment. (Life Your Way)

Why Memorization Gets A Bad Rap In Modern Education. The difference is the desire behind it - do you want facts spewed back, or do you want a framework for learning? (Life Your Way)

Setting Powerful Short-Term Personal Finance Goals...And 25 Examples To Get You Started. This is a really good list of short-term challenges to boost or improve your finances. (The Simple Dollar)

Is There A Natural Alternative To Pediasure? I've never used Pediasure for my kids, but I'm all about real food alternatives to fake processed things. (100 Days Of Real Food)

Friday, July 11, 2014

On Craft Stash Busting And Letting Go

As I was reading through the book Zero Waste Home (look for the full review at the end of the month), one quotation from the section on Crafts really jumped out at me:

"As I let go of potential/unfinished projects and seldom-used materials, I let go of frustrations and expectations. I had realized that the unused art supplies had been nagging at me. They were just sitting there, waiting to become something better, something artful, something amazing, something that would allow me to vanquish my fears and exceed my abilities."

I think this is one of the issues I have with the craft supplies I still have. I have gotten rid of many, but I still have quite a few, and sometimes seeing them just sitting there when I don't have time or energy to create anything causes more stress than joy.

So I started grabbing things to get rid of. The first bag was easy. Some empty tins, small ribbons, bits and pieces of old projects that I had gotten from someone and never done anything with.  And I felt lighter.
Then I organized some of the bigger categories I had left, and made a list of what projects had been started and what needed to be done to finish them.  And it was still a long list, but I like having lists. It gives me something to work towards, a visual way of seeing what I couldn't see when it was bagged and boxed up on my shelves.
I don't know what's next. I know there are more things I can get rid of. Just writing the last few paragraphs, I've thought of a few that I know I can use to start the next bag of giveaways.  I know that the baby wipes tubs don't work for storage, because I forget what's in them, even with the labels.  I know that once I finish some projects, there are tools and materials I probably won't use again.  I know that at some point, we're going to need the space for a desk for Jesse to work at home, or storage for homeschool supplies (yes, homeschool...more about that soon, I hope).  So it's good for me to continue to narrow things down.
I'm excited for a few of the bigger projects that I gathered together, some of which I had planned awhile ago and forgotten.  I'm excited that I found and organized my stationary and envelopes so I can hopefully start writing letters again.  I'm excited that I was able to finish a few quick stash-busting projects with materials that I had saved for a specific purpose.  But mostly, I'm excited that I was able to start letting things go.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

4th Of July Fun!

Jonah and Matthew love when I get out the paint shirts and the newspaper. They think painting is the best project in the world. It's messy, so it doesn't happen very often, but they love it.
I had a red lid that came with a Christmas cookie container, but the container itself had broken. But the lid was pretty, and I thought I could probably make something with it, so I saved it.  I decided to paint a flag on it.
Since I was painting, I decided to let the boys help, so I pulled two oatmeal canister lids out of the recycling for them, and gave them some red, white, and blue.
Then I put it all together with a little bit of ribbon, and hung it on our front door.  A little bit of festive fun for the season, and they were so proud when they saw their artwork on the door!

Sunday, July 6, 2014

What I'm Reading...

Earlier this week, I made a batch of this homemade chocolate syrup. It turned out a little runnier than I expected, but still really tasty! We also went berry picking, and the combination of freshly picked strawberries with a drizzle of chocolate syrup was just perfect.

On Pumping And Bottles, Formula And Shame. All of my kids have been breastfed and formula fed. And it's still a hard topic for me. But I will always defend the choice to formula feed when it's the best choice for the family. (Life Your Way)

The Single Easiest Habit Change To Improve Your Life Forever. Jesse and I have both agreed to start watching less television for our evening entertainment, and do other things (like read more) instead. For me, summer is an easy time to do this because there aren't many shows that I watch, but I have a feeling it will be more challenging in fall. (Becoming Minimalist)

5 Things To Remember When Freezing Food. The stuff about freezing veggies is right up my alley. I freeze chopped up produce all the time. (Kitchen Stewardship)

The Quickstart Guide To A Decluttered Home. "I now realize that I always disliked the clutter, but I put off thinking about it because it was unpleasant." (Zen Habits)

Friday, July 4, 2014


On Tuesday, we went strawberry picking at a farm about 20 minutes from our house.  Berry picking has been on my summer bucket list for the past few years, but usually by the time I get to thinking about it, berry season is already over.  The farm we went to also has peas and raspberries, and raspberry season just started, so we may take a second trip in the next week or two (we'll see if we have the freezer space!).
 We ended up with two boxes of strawberries, nearly 12 pounds! That's a lot of berries at once.
I set up a system to process them right away.
I had a cookie sheet for the smallest berries, which I froze whole. Those will be used for smoothies. I ended up with 2 cookie sheets full, which was about 2 gallon size freezer ziplocs.  I flash froze them for a few hours on the cookie sheets so they wouldn't stick together in the bags.

I had a big bowl for the rest of them, and the white bowl above for the stems.  I ended up just using my fingers to squeeze the stems off, because that was way faster than using the knife! Rinse the berries, core the berries, slice the berries, repeat.  It actually didn't take as long as I thought it would. I did one box Tuesday morning right away, and the second after lunch.

On Wednesday, Jesse made a small batch of strawberry chia jam (just 2 cups of strawberries, 1/4 cup of honey, and a couple tablespoons of chia seeds, reduced for a few minutes on the stove). It is pretty tasty, although it's definitely more of a subtle-tasting jam than we thought it would be.

We also have some blueberries and cherries in the fridge, so a mixed berry jam might happen too.  I used the immersion blender to mash some berries up for strawberry syrup for French toast one morning as well, and that was delicious!  And, of course, strawberry shortcakes for dinner the first night! I don't think a berry picking day is complete without those!

We are just about berried out, but we have plenty left to save for later this summer! Have you ever gone berry picking? What's your favorite strawberry recipe?

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Menu Plan July 1-15

Happy July! How are we already at the start of a new month? I was talking to Jesse the other night about menu planning. I really don't enjoy sitting down to do it, but I do know how much time and money it saves throughout the two weeks afterwards. It's just the process that I don't really enjoy. Anyone have any ideas how to make it more fun?
We went strawberry picking on Tuesday, so those will make an appearance on the menu (and in lots of snacking!).

Here's what we have planned for the next few weeks:

Tuesday, July 1
Breakfast: McDonalds (because sometimes Mama is craving a breakfast sandwich)
Lunch: Baked Sweet Potatoes with Bacon, Mushrooms, Peppers, and Craisins (holdover from last week)
Dinner: Leftover Southern Chicken Stew and Biscuits from the night before

Wednesday, July 2
Breakfast: French Toast with Strawberry Syrup
Lunch: Cobb Salads (Ham, Turkey, Hard-Boiled Egg, Tomato, Cucumber, and Cheese on Greens)
Dinner: Hot Dogs and Crockpot Baked Beans

Thursday, July 3
Breakfast: Eggs and Toast
Lunch: Cobb Salads
Dinner: Chicken and Leftover Baked Beans

Friday, July 4
Breakfast: Cereal
Lunch: Picnic at the Parade (probably sandwiches and fruit/veggies)
Dinner: Black Bean Burgers and Sweet Potato Fries

Saturday, July 5
Breakfast: Eggs with Bacon, Mushrooms, Sweet Potatoes, Onions, and Peppers
Lunch: Homemade Macaroni and Cheese
Dinner: Crockpot Orange Chicken with Rice

Sunday, July 6
Breakfast: Eggs with Bacon and Veggies (like the day before)
Lunch: Tomato Soup and Grilled Cheese
Dinner: Leftover Orange Chicken with Rice

Monday, July 7
Breakfast: Oatmeal
Lunch: Pinto Bean and Ground Turkey Taco Salads
Dinner: Chicken Cacciatore

Tuesday, July 8
Breakfast: Whole Wheat White Chocolate Chip Cherry Muffins
Lunch: Leftover Taco Salads
Dinner: Leftover Chicken Cacciatore

Wednesday, July 9
Breakfast: Leftover Muffins
Lunch: Turkey or PB&J Sandwiches
Dinner: Mini Meat Loaves, Broccoli

Thursday, July 10
Breakfast: Eggs and Toast
Lunch: Leftover Mini Meat Loaves and Broccoli
Dinner: BLTs

Friday, July 11
Breakfast: Eggs and Bacon
Lunch: Chicken Salads
Dinner: Homemade Pizza with Bacon, Sausage, Mushrooms, and Black Olives

Saturday, July 12
Breakfast: Cereal
Lunch: Leftover Chicken Salads
Dinner: Toscana Soup

Sunday, July 13
Breakfast: Oatmeal
Lunch: Leftovers, Sandwiches
Dinner: Chicken Fajitas

Monday, July 14
Breakfast: Eggs and Toast
Lunch: Chicken and Broccoli Quesadillas
Dinner: Crockpot Jambalaya

Tuesday, July 15
Breakfast: Cereal
Lunch: TBD
Dinner: Crockpot Jambalaya

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Weekly Coupon Shopping

Diapers were $6.99, get $3ECBs per pack, with a limit of 5 (usually it's only 1!), so I grabbed those since that's a great price. I did 2 transactions to help limit my out of pocket costs.
  • Transaction #1: 3 packs diapers at $6.99 each = paid $22.10 with tax, got $9ECBs.
  • Transaction #2: 2 packs diapers at $6.99 each. Used $9ECBs from first transaction = paid $5.68, got $6ECBs.
These iced coffees were priced at $1 each at Walgreens this week, with a $1RR on each one. I don't shop at Walgreens much, so the odds of me using up RR before they expire are not good. So I price matched at Walmart, and used my coupons to get them for free there.
Other Coupon Shopping:
  • Target Starbucks: I got 2 free pastries with purchase of 2 beverages, based on a free offer they posted on Twitter (expired 7/2/14)

July Goals

  • Get back into daily reading time with the kids, at least 5 days a week. I'm thinking after lunch before rest time is the best time for this.
  • Teach the kids another hymn verse. We've taken a few months off from this, and I want to find a good all-season hymn to teach them. I'm thinking God's Word Is Our Great Heritage or On My Heart Imprint Thine Image.
  • Put away Hannah's too small clothes and check the next size up to see what we have for girl clothes, and make a list of what we need.
  • Check Jonah and Matthew's next-size-up clothes as well, and make a list of what we need.
  • Finish reading Sugar, Salt, Fat, plus read 2 more books.  I have a couple paperbacks that I've bought over the past few months, as well as one I received for free for a review (I should probably read that one first).
  • Make at least 2 craft projects. I really need to start using up some of the random crafty items I've saved for specific projects, so I can condense and organize the categories that are left that I actually use more consistently. Does that make sense? I hope it does.
  • Post at least one content post per week. This means something besides What I'm Reading or Menu Plans. One project, one rambling thoughts post, one something.
  • Find a consistent time each week to work on the blog.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Books I've Read: June 2014

I read something this month (as in June)! Even though the year is half over, I decided to set a reading goal for myself on Goodreads, where I keep track of the many many books I want to read.  I chose 25 for the year, and before this month I was at 5. So I have a bit of reading to do! Here's what I read this month:

Living Clutterfree With Kids in the House by Mike Burns and Jen Burns.

I got this ebook for free through a promotion in March, and finally read it last week. I needed a book to get me in the mood to do some more getting rid of stuff in the kids' room, and I figured this might be a good place to start.

I read about half of it, went and got rid of some of the boys' toys (with their help, of course!), and found a home for the Legos in the bedroom - they have been hanging out in the living room since we moved.  And then I read the rest of the book while the boys watched a movie. 

It was definitely one that focuses on the mindset, the why behind the decluttering, which is always a good reminder for me, and really inspires me to get moving on getting rid of stuff. 

"We all have limited capacity. There are only so many options to consider. Every decision means unchosen options. Every choice to do one thing, is a choice not to do something else."

I also made a little bit of progress on Sugar, Salt, Fat by Michael Moss, and I'm about halfway through Zero Waste Home by Bea Johnson. Look for those on the book review list next month, along with (hopefully) a few more! I have a 3-month free trial to Scribd, which is kind of like Netflix for books. The selection is okay - I found about 17 books from my Goodreads "To Read" list on there, which I figure is plenty for 3 months. If I actually get through all of those I'll be super impressed.

Iron Craft Challenge #13: Stars And Stripes

Another Iron Craft project! I've missed the past couple challenges because of life getting busy, but I'm happy to be back in crafting mode.  This week's challenge was Stars and Stripes, but didn't necessarily have to include both or be patriotic.  I went back and forth between making a patriotic thing for our front door, and doing something with black and white stripes (my favorite color/pattern combo ever - just look in my closet). And I chose...neither.
I took a couple of metal cookie cutters and wrapped them with yarn, kind of like all those popular wreaths you see on Pinterest.
 One star, and one with stripes!
Probably not the first thing you think of when you hear stars and stripes, but I really like them!