Saturday, November 10, 2018

Holiday Gift Giving

Welcome to my "Countdown to Christmas" series where each week I share about what we are doing in our home to prepare for this most wonderful time of the year. Last week we discussed some tips on how to be prepared for the holiday season so we can be more intentional and have time to enjoy the festivities without added stress. This week I wanted to share with you the practical ways that we stay within our budget and still bring joy to our family, friends, and people less fortunate than us.
One of the things that brings us great joy is giving at Christmas time. We start our holiday season by setting a budget for Christmas.  The budget includes Christmas decorations, cards, stamps, mailing packages, our holiday party, wrapping supplies, and of course, GIFTS!  We come up with a lump sum and then disperse that throughout the categories and work hard to stay within the boundaries we have set for ourselves.  This means, more often than not, I am not able to do all that I want to do on our holiday list.  Example: When we were first married, I mailed out over 100 Christmas cards to family and friends. ( I have lots of relatives).  Here we are, 19 years later, and I mail out 30 cards.  This year to keep the budget cost even less, rather than ordering the photo cards that I normally make up, I am just going to order copies of our family picture and include it with our annual newsletter.

(FYI: This is the first year my husband and I have worked together as a team planning the holiday budget and gifts.  Usually I just take the bull by the horns and get er' done. So, please know that this is not done perfectly in our home.  We are still learning how to communicate in all areas but especially with the budget. In previous years when I did this solo, I went through these same steps though.)

This Christmas season I am doing a mixture of homemade and store bought gifts to help stay within budget.  We also set limits on the number of gifts that we give.  Our children each receive 3 gifts under the tree and rather than filling a stocking full of gifts, each child receives a piece of candy in their stocking as well as a clue that leads them on a scavenger hunt around the house (one of our favorite traditions). In previous years there was an item at each clue for them to unwrap but that has become expensive.  So this year, they will just have clues that will lead them to a  gift at the end of the hunt. We will still be keeping with our tradition of a scavenger hunt but we will be simplifying it a bit to meet our budget needs. :)

If things are looking meager budget wise for you, do not be afraid to tweak things.  Just because you have to stick to a budget doesn't mean you cannot give gifts.  It just means you might have to think outside of the box a little bit.

Here are my gift giving steps that I use to help me stay within budget and still spread Christmas cheer.

 Step 1 is to make sure you know how much money you are working with. Don't skip the budgeting part as that is vital for a stress free holiday season.  If money is tight you can still give a gift.  Remember, the best things in life are free.  :)  Here is a great list of 100 FREE gift ideas.
Jam by Tesa Photography via pixabay

Step 2:  Make a list!
I am a list maker at heart and would be quite lost without my paper and pen or my phone with a note app. Having a list helps keep me organized and gives me a game plan.  It also helps from overspending. Throughout the year when I hear of a loved one speak of something they would like, I pop it onto my list. Some friends and family share their amazon wish lists with me, which is a wonderful way to purchase items you know your loved ones will enjoy. I keep a simple Google spreadsheet with a list of those I have to buy for, ideas, and a running total of what I am spending. It makes it really easy to just glance and see who I have left to buy for and what the remaining balance is for my holiday spending.

I absolutely love Google because it is so organized and easy.  I actually make a new spreadsheet, title it Christmas 2018 and within that spreadsheet I have different sheets.  I have a sheet for my Christmas card list, a sheet for our party with ideas for games as well as the menu and guest list, a sheet for friend gifts, a sheet for family gifts, a sheet for Advent and a sheet for our Christmas movie calendar.  It's great to have everything all in one spot so if I am out shopping I can just peek at my app on my phone and see what I still need to pick up  for the Christmas party or what the name of that game was that my brother in law wanted for Christmas. :)

Step 3: Keep it SIMPLE.
No one needs to be drowning in gifts.  Children are more content with a few well chosen items vs. being overwhelmed with too many things.

 I remember a Christmas years ago when my oldest son was about two years old... old enough to enjoy the wonder of Christmas morning.  He was the only child, only grandchild and only great grandchild at that time so he was lavished upon when it came to the holidays. We gave him his stocking Christmas morning and it was bursting at the seams with gifts.  In fact, we couldn't fit them all in the stocking, therefore we gave him an additional gift bag filled with stocking stuffers.  He looked at all the wrapped gifts in astonished excitement.  He picked the first gift out of the stocking and unwrapped a superhero toothbrush.  He was so overjoyed that he held onto that toothbrush and thanked us profusely.  He then asked to not open the rest of his stocking, he was content with that simple toothbrush.  We realized then and there that we may have overdone it.

Christmas by jill111@ pixabay
In our culture it is easy to get caught up in the materialism of the holiday thinking we need to buy more and more.  However, by doing that, a) we get into debt  b) we teach others that stuff = happiness  c) we become stressed and sacrifice our joy. It is okay to slow it all down and make it more simple for yourself and others this year.  If you need encouragement in this area then read this post from Joyful Choices.

Step 4: Give to those in the community and those who are in need.
One of the things I absolutely love about this time of year is giving to those who least expect it. It is a practice that we try to do throughout the year but Christmas is a great time to bring a smile to someone's face.  Some ideas that we've come up with over the years are:
  Operation Christmas Child through Samaritan's Purse
Sponsoring a child from a third world country.
Serving at the homeless shelter.
Visiting at the nursing home... hugs are free and these precious people want nothing more than to be thought of.
Ringing the bell for the Salvation Army.
Delivering cookies to those who serve us (police, postman, oil man...).
Buying $5 gift cards to Dunkin Donuts and handing them out to whoever pumps our gas or the clerk who bags our groceries.
Buying a bouquet of flowers and handing them to a stranger.
Finding a local family who is in need and bringing them a meal or a plate of goodies.
Shoveling for an elderly person in the neighborhood.
Buying a meal for the soldier who is standing in line behind us.
Helping a mom who needs a break.
Buying the coffee for the person behind us at the drive through.

 These moments of giving do not have to end at Christmas time. As a family, we are trying to be more active in seeking out ways we can serve others throughout the year.  It brings us so much joy and we meet the most wonderful people in the process.
Apparel by 5688709 pixabay

Step 5: Giving creative gifts.
One of my favorite gifts to give are experience gifts.  These can be as simple or extravagant as you want.  Maybe you have an Aunt who LOVES craft fairs.  You could take her out for a day of craft fair hopping and maybe purchase her an ornament or take her out to lunch as her gift. Spending time with people doesn't cost money and I find it is often the best gift we can give!

I have found that one gift that my parents enjoy year after year is our family calendar. Each year, for the past decade or so, we've been giving my parents and my husband's parents a calendar of our favorite family photos/memories that happened the past year.  We try to keep it in line with the seasons so pumpkin pictures will be in October, Christmas pictures in December, and each child's birthday month features a variety of pictures of them. It is simple and yet so appreciated therefore it has become part of our Christmas tradition.

Another simple gift we give to relatives is a yearly newsletter that rhymes and include a family photo.  I used to think it was cheesy but each year my aunts and uncles expresses to me how much they look forward to that letter arriving around Christmas.  So, we continue writing it and putting it out there.  I save a copy of the newsletter and a picture in a special box, with the hopes of one day compiling a binder of all of our yearly letters and photos so we can enjoy them together as a family as part of our reminiscing.  So, don't negate the simplicity of a gift, often times the simple gifts are those that are most remembered.

Need more gift giving inspiration, Real Simple has some creative and fun ideas on the holiday gift exchange.

I would love to hear about what you do for gifts at Christmas time?  Do you shop early, do you wait till Black Friday and pull an all nighter, do you make homemade gifts? Maybe rather than giving a physical gift you donate money to charity in the recipient's name.  Whatever you do, however you choose to give,  I would love to hear from you in the comments below.

Oh, and don't forget as you pick up your gifts to wrap em'! You will save yourself copious amounts of time in the long run. I enjoy listening to Bing Crosby while I wrap. If you have a smaller family, you could choose a unique wrapping paper per person. My sister has two sons, one son has penguin wrapping paper every year and the other has polar bear wrapping paper.  Makes it easy when present time comes around to know whose is whose. :) Plus, it starts a fun family tradition that is simple and useful.

Make sure to come back next Saturday when we will be discussing music, movies, and books of the season.

Dreaming of a white Christmas,

Saturday, November 3, 2018

Countdown to Christmas Tips!

Welcome to my "Countdown to Christmas" series where each week I would like to share about what we are doing in our home to prepare for this most wonderful time of the year. I  find that the older I get, the more simplified I want things to become and most importantly, the more I want to reflect Christ to those around me. This is especially important to me at Christmas time.

Joy is simple when you are young; simpli by symphony of love, on Flickr

Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.0 Generic License   by  symphony of love 

I do not know about you, but for me, the holidays used to be overwhelming.  There was SO MUCH TO DO and it seemed like everyone around me was in a frenetic hurry.  I did not feel the joy of the season, in fact, it felt very opposite.  People were grumpy in the stores. My friends talked about how exhausted they were by all that needed to be done and how they hadn't been able to get their shopping accomplished yet. Stress was palpable in my own home as I rushed about trying to gather up gifts, bake goodies, put on a memorable party, and also address Christmas cards, wrap gifts, and run to the post office in my free time. By the time the big day arrived I was a mix of emotions because I felt like I hadn't taken the time to enjoy the season leading up to Christmas day.  I had lost sight of what is truly important about Christmas and my joy was greatly diminished.

Things are different now.  Christmas is more drawn out in our household due to the fact that it is my favorite time of year and  I LOVE to celebrate it for as long as realistically possible without driving my family nutty. Also, I like to take extra time to prepare so the days are enjoyable and not rushed.  By planning our holiday season I am able to get things done early and have more down time with my family as we reflect on this beautiful time of year.

Here are a few simple things we do in our home to help the holiday be one of joy and not stress.

1. Budget
Sit down with your significant other and plan how much you want to spend on gifts this year.  Start setting that money aside, the earlier the better.  Keep things reasonable so you don't have to work overtime to pay for Christmas.

2. Have a gift list.
I keep a simple Google spreadsheet with a list of those I have to buy for and ideas.   Having a list helps keep you organized and gives you a game plan.  It also helps from overspending.

3. Take advantage of online shopping!
It saves so much time to just click and buy.  The packages are either shipped directly to my house or the recipient... boom.  Done!

4. Pick up a few gender neutral gifts to have on hand for Secret Santa's or hostess gifts.

5. If you do Advent, make sure you plan little items/activities for your calendar.

6. Traditions!
Sit down with your family and decide together what traditions you want to celebrate this year.  There are some traditions that we celebrate each year because it wouldn't feel like Christmas without them. Other traditions come and go and sometimes, we ditch an old tradition and start a new one. Allow yourself the freedom to let go of things that are no longer important to you or not working for your family anymore. The fact is, regardless whether a tradition is special or not, they take up your time, so make sure you are spending your time on that which truly matters to you and yours.

7. Choose the spot where you want your Christmas tree!
Some people have their tree in the same spot each year.  I am a special creature who enjoys rearranging  furniture often (pray for my husband) therefore, our tree is rarely in the same place from year to year. To save stress, we choose our spot for our tree ahead of time so we can rearrange accordingly if needed.

8. Stock up on supplies early.
Wrapping paper, tape, gift bags, tissue paper and tags are necessities for  gift giving.  If you are like me, you want the cutest paper possible and ya'll know the paper that is available on Christmas Eve is just plain ol' ugly.  So, buy early for the best selection and make sure you get plenty of tape!

Gifts by Yvettefang06040 via pixabay

9. Wrap as you buy!
It saves so much time if you wrap as you pick up gifts.   This is another area where the spreadsheet comes in handy.  I put a little note next to the recipient's name stating where I hid the gift. :)  If a person has more than one gift I note that.  Example: My children each receive three gifts under the tree.  On my spreadsheet I label them gift #1, gift #2, and gift #3. When I wrap their gift I write which gift # it is on the tag and also discreetly on the back of the box (in case the tag falls off) that way I don't have to shake it and guess which present it is.

10. Plan your Christmas party date ahead of time and send out invites that way your family and friends can have your party on the calendar before the influx hits. I also like to plan the menu and games so I can buy supplies early.

11. Pick your menu for Christmas day.
  Pinterest and allrecipes have awesome ideas.  My goal is to keep it simple because I want to bask in the glory of the day. Keep your eyes out for my upcoming post on my favorite holiday recipes that keep me out of the kitchen but still creates a decadent feast.

12. Bake up some holiday cheer ahead of time and freeze it.  It makes life easier in the long run.  We do almost all of our cookie baking ahead of time.

13. Stamps!

14. Mail out your holiday cards and packages early. The lines just get longer as Christmas day gets closer.

15. If you are going to DIY then get your craft on NOW. Do not save it for last minute.  Don't be the one who is crying over your sewing machine at 2am on Christmas Eve. (Been there, done that).  You can find my post on the DIY hobby horse here.

16. Clean your home!
Zone cleaning has been a life saver for me.  It makes it so my home is usually guest ready within minutes.   It is easy to entertain when you clean a little bit each day.

17. Decorate!
Enjoy this magical season for as long as possible! As you are setting out your favorite decorations if there are things you no longer love then donate them or throw them away. No need to hang onto what no longer fills you with joy.

18. Take time for you!
Plan some down time for yourself in the midst of all the planning, cooking, cleaning, and wrapping. It is okay to say "no" to others in order to carve out some time for yourself.  Take a bubble bath, ask your spouse to wrap the gifts you bought today, plan on going out to lunch with a friend before your holiday grocery shopping.   :)

What are some ways you kick stress to the curb during the holiday season?

Each week I will be adding to our Countdown to Christmas by expanding on some of the above ideas. Please come back next Saturday to hear more about gift giving and how we plan, organize, wrap, etc.

So excited to be here with you,

Monday, October 29, 2018

Laundry With a Family of 8

Hello friends,
So today, I wanted to let you in on how we stay on top of laundry with a family of eight.

Pegs by Ryan McGuire

I enjoy keeping my home but laundry is not one of my favorite things to do.  Folding is tedious to me and having too many stacks of laundry that are folded and awaiting to be taken care of really stresses me out.  So, I wash, dry, fold and put away a load or two a day.

For me, I connect laundry with a trigger.  In the morning when I come downstairs the first thing I do is start a load of laundry.  Just waking up and heading towards the stairs reminds me to start the laundry.  It has become habit/routine.  So, I grab a bag of dirty clothes (we have this awesome laundry organizer) and pop it in the wash. While I am getting ready for the morning it is washing happily.  Then I switch the load over to the dryer before we eat breakfast, start the second load if needed, and while the children are completing their chores, I fold it and put it on the appointed beds.

I fold laundry immediately out of the dryer so:
a) no wrinkles
b) I don't procrastinate and put it off until there is a mountain of clean laundry taunting me.

Now, I wish I had a beautifully organized laundry room to show you but reality is that we live in a wonderful farm house with cute nooks and crannies.  The laundry area is one of these nooks.
Yes, the photo above really is where the magic happens in folding laundry for eight people.  It is affectionately called the "laundry hall".  To the right there is a sliding door to a narrow closet space that has a hamper for dirty towels and shelves for cleaning/laundry supplies.  There is also our upright freezer in this hallway.  To the left you see a string with Ziploc baggies hanging from it.  Yes, I am the weirdo who washes and reuses Ziploc baggies that haven't had anything greasy or meat in them.

I love the laundry baskets that collapse in on themselves so you can fold them up and store them easily.  The one in the picture has dividers so I can put each person's laundry in a section.  I have several of these laundry baskets and they are wonderful.  Now, one day when we expand the laundry area, each person will have their own sturdy basket with their name on it and I will just fold, put it in their hamper, and they will be responsible for carting it upstairs and taking care of it and then returning the basket back to it's place in the laundry room.  However, for now, I fold them and bring the large divided basket upstairs, place piles on each person's bed, and then it is up to them to take care of them before lights out.

As far as sorting dirty laundry, I have the laundry organizer that I linked above and it has 4 bags. One bag is for delicates (mostly my laundry) and the other 3 are for everyone else's laundry.  I also have a large hamper for towels and bedding. I do not sort laundry.  GASP! I know... I know.  I can feel the judgement from across the screen but seriously, it's all good.  I use a detergent that is safe for all colors and we just go with it. It is so freeing... I dare you to try it!  It also helps that we do not own many white clothes due to the fact that we are a clumsy lot and they inevitably become unwhite (or dingy gray due to our hard water). 

Once a week I wash towels and any necessary bedding/throw blankets that need to be laundered. 

So, that is my routine and how we keep on top of the laundry monster in our home.  I'd love to hear your tips and tricks on how you tackle your dirty clothes.

Want to save a few bucks and make your own laundry detergent?  You can snag my recipe here that I have been using for almost 15 years. It is WONDERFUL and costs a few cents a load.  

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Homemade Laundry Detergent & Household Cleaners

Household cleaners are expensive and many are toxic. Over the last few years I have found many recipes for homemade cleaners and I have yet to make one that I dislike.  Here is what I use in our home on a regular basis.

Homemade Laundry Detergent (powdered)
2 cups grated soap (I use Fels Naptha)
1 cup Borax
1 cup washing soda
1 cup Oxy Clean (optional)
Mix well and store in a sealed container. Use 1 Tbsp per load.
Cost = 2 cents/load 

Fabric Softener
1/2 cup white vinegar

Add vinegar to your rinse cycle or just pour it into a Downy ball so you don't have to worry about zipping down to the washing machine in time to catch the rinse cycle. This works amazingly well and once the clothes are dry the vinegar smell is gone.  I promise you won't smell like a baby gherkin. :)

Homemade Soft Scrub
* 1/2 cup baking soda
* 2-3 Tablespoons Dish Liquid
* 1 Tablespoon white vinegar

Mix baking soda and dish liquid in a medium sized bowl. Mixture should resemble a thick frosting. Add more dish liquid as needed. Next, add the vinegar… warning, this will foam a lot at first! Stir the mixture well until it stops foaming a lot. Store in an airtight container.  An old dish soap container works well. Use to scrub counter tops, soap scum from the bathroom, the stove top, or anywhere you would normally use Soft Scrub.
Kitchen by Skitterphoto via Pixabay

Homemade Window Cleaner                                                                                                               
 *1 cup Water
 *1/4 cup white vinegar
 *2 to 3 drops Dawn dish soap
 *Spray bottle

Mix all ingredients in a large bowl with pour spout  and pour into a spray bottle. Enjoy!
Works well when washing windows to use newspaper rather than paper towels... no lint left on the window and it is streak free.

Homemade Furniture Polish
1 cup olive oil
1/4 cup white vinegar
3 to 4 drops lemon essential oil (optional)

Add all ingredients to a spray bottle and mix well.  I have good luck with finding spray bottles at the Dollar Store or in the travel aisle at Walmart.  When using the polish you can spray it on a lint free rag (cloth baby diapers are awesome for rags) or if you want more shine, you can spray it directly on the furniture and buff it with your rag.  

Store your furniture polish in a cool, dark place and mix it well before using.  

Do you have a favorite cleaning product that you would like to share with me, I would love to hear about it in the comments below. Happy cleaning!

Monday, August 27, 2018

A Time for Tea

Baby and Father from Pixabay

Children grow so fast.  I long for the snuggles of little babes, their dimpled hands in mine as they look up into my face and we sing a song.  Those dimpled hands grow bigger as do those little babes.  Soon they are young men with calloused hands from climbing trees or doing a hard day's work.  They no longer look up at you but rather look down as they give a hug before going off to take a dual credit class at a local college.  The days can be long Mommas, I know that to be true, but these years, they fly by.  I wanted to slow it all down, make life stand still for a while so my Momma heart could catch up.  A few years ago we started a new ritual in our home called "Tea Time".

Around 3pm, several days a week, I  gather my crew together, young and old, and we all sit in our comfy spot.  Our comfy spot happens to be our sitting area. It is filled with well loved chairs  and situated in front of large picture windows that have a view of our woods. The sun filters in and makes it such a welcoming space, no matter the season.  There is a large trunk which  I adorn with a tablecloth and I put out a tray of snacks (fruit, vegetables, and a special treat like cookies or muffins).  Small plates are set in a stack near the tray and once they are put out, I am ready to gather my precious ones.

Our sitting area.
From the kitchen, the tea kettle sings with anticipation it's happy song.  I call the children from wherever they are...
"Teeeeeea Tiiiime"!

 The younger ones are swinging in the back yard, others are building with Legos, my Princess is playing dolls in her room, and my oldest is off with a book. They come from all corners and enter the heart of our home, our  kitchen.  Each grab a tea cup or mug and their favorite tea/cocoa as  I pour hot water into the cups. Sugar, cream, and honey are available to stir in and they bring their steaming mugs to the sitting room and find a spot to get cozy.

I look around at their faces and I thank God silently for each of these blessings. I open with a small prayer of thankfulness and then grab our book off the shelf and begin as the children grab their snack with delight. It doesn't matter what age, I think everyone enjoys being read to. Because we have such an age range (toddlers through teens) there are pauses in our story time.  Bathroom breaks, squabbles ("Mom, he is on my side of the cushion."), or just a case of the wiggles, sometimes these things come up and we accommodate them.  The point is to build intimacy and unity... not to check off a "to do" list.

 When all is said and done, our story time/tea takes about forty five minutes to an hour out of our day and yet it helps bind us together for a lifetime.  It makes us stop wherever we are at and encourages us to slow down and come together.  We take a pause... one that builds togetherness, one that brings comfort to our bodies and spirit, and one that enriches our mind with wonderful  classics from years gone by.   This seemingly simple ritual can make all the difference in my day... I so look forward to it, as do my children.  What special rituals do you look forward to in your day/week?

Grateful for the gift today,

This post can also be found over at My Pink Gems where you will find encouragement for your soul no matter what season of life you are in.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Homeschool Curriculum

A question I am asked often is, "What do you use for curriculum?".  Well, my kids each learn a bit differently so I don't purchase a boxed curriculum from just one source.  I piece meal our books together based on interests, learning style, my teaching style, etc.

Over the summer I  ask my children what they would like to learn about this upcoming school year.  For example, this summer when asked that question I received these answers:

The World Wars
The Animal Kingdom, especially animals in our state.
Science Experiments, the messier the better.

So, when I begin the school year, just by asking a simple question, I can be prepared to teach to their passions.  I take the above answers, look at what needs to be accomplished for their individual needs and then I construct a plan.  We have been homeschooling for a LONG time (13 years) so it doesn't take as long now to map out our routine.

I have tried and true books I use for the basics.  I will break it down by grade level below.

For preschool I do a simple Circle Time with the kids.  I gather them up while the big kids are doing their chores and we sing a few songs, read some books that go along with our theme (one theme per month), and review our letter of the week.  We end our time with an activity and by the time we are all finished, the big kids are ready to begin their school day.  On average Circle Time takes about 40 minutes and the little ones love it.  It gives them much needed one on one time at the start of the day and then they are free to play while I work with the older children.

Some of our favorite authors for Preschool Circle Time
Eric Carle
Chris Van Dusen
H.A. Rey
Jan Brett
Virginia Lee Burton
Dr. Seuss
A.A. Milne
Beatrix Potter

Elementary (k-6)
The Ordinary Parents Guide to Teaching Reading
This is a no frills book that gets the job done.  The lessons take 10 to 15 minutes and I start this when the children show an interest in wanting to learn how to read.  Some of my kids started very early, age 3, and others were 5 years old.  What I appreciate about this book is that it teaches your child to read phonetically.

First Language Lessons
This is a basic introduction to grammar for grade school. The lessons take about 10 to 15 minutes and incorporate grammar, narration, dictation, and memorization.

Fix It Grammar
We use IEW's Fix It! Grammar as the children get older and this can be used in elementary grades up through high school.  The books ask you to edit daily passages for errors and by the end of the year the daily passages all come together to form the complete story.  A very fun and effective way to learn grammar!

Math U See
We have used multiple math programs over the years but once we discovered Math U See, we never turned back.  I love the way Mr. Demme teaches the children the new lesson, via dvd, and then there is a weeks worth of reviewing the new concept as well as cumulative review of previous material learned. Lessons take about 20 to 30 minutes, depending on the grade level.

Story of the World/ Tapestry of Grace
We use SOW and Tapestry as our spines for history and then supplement with their book lists of wonderful living books that help bring history to life for our children.  With the younger children I use Story of the World and we have a blast making memories as we work through the awesome activity book together throughout the year.  The activity book  is full of wonderful crafts, enrichment activities, lists of additional books to read, and fun puzzles/coloring pages, I definitely advise purchasing it to go along with whatever time period you are studying.

My kids have a blast using Jeannie Fulbright's Apologia Exploring Creation Through Science series.  As with the history curriculum, these books also have a notebooking journal with extra activities, books to read, coloring pages, and copywork pages that add so much richness to your school day.  Another science series we are enjoying is Berean Builders which teaches science through history so you can pair it up with the time period you are learning about in history and it really adds to the experience. 

We also incorporate Nature Study into our week.  It is a fabulous way to get your children outside to enjoy the fresh air and it allows them to notice God's creation around them while helping them get in touch with their creative side.  It is a great excuse to dig in the dirt, go puddle jumping , or hold worms.  :)

If you need some nature study ideas, Barb at Handbook of Nature Study has done all of the footwork for you.  Check out her website and enjoy having fun with your kids as you explore the amazing world around us whether it be in your own back yard, while on a hike, or playing at the park.  The options are limitless.

Further reading on Nature Study:
Handbook of Nature Study by Anna Botsford Comstock

Pocketful of Pinecones by Karen Andreola

Keeping a Nature Journal by Clare Walker Leslie

As my children progress through the grades and enter high school we continue with:
Math U See
We have greatly enjoyed Jay Wile's Discovering Design series for science. It is excellent to use in a co op setting but can be done alone as well.
We continue with Tapestry of Grace and sometimes mix it up with Beautiful Feet for History.
We use Institute for Excellence in Writing for  a variety of grammar/essay writing, etc, based on what the needs/desires are and we have used The One Year Adventure Novel curriculum with our aspiring writer, which was great fun.

We read aloud often in our home school so we will usually pick a series at the beginning of the year and work our way through it.  Last year we read Little Britches and I think this year we will be reading Pippi Longstocking. In years past we have read Little Men, Little Women, The Hobbit, and the Chronicles of Narnia series.

So, that is the general idea of what major books we use in our homeschool.  Do you have a curriculum or book that you just cannot live without?  Please share it in the comments below.

Monday, May 28, 2018

Unsung Heroes

The day began with a parade to honor those who are often times forgotten.  The children waved their banners high and when the weathered men walked by, in heavy, starched suits standing proud in the 80 degree sun... we applauded.  I don't know what it must've been like to watch a friend fall on the beach at Normandy or have a brother become a POW. I cannot imagine the heartache of serving your country, taking in the horrors of war, and returning home to criticism.  I don't know what nightmares plague our soldiers as they transition from being in active service to being a civilian again. I have no clue what it is like to have my husband or wife serve actively while I pray for them to safely return home, and in the meantime keep everything rolling smoothly in their absence. I haven't had to miss a child's birthday or Christmas, a wedding anniversary, or the passing of a parent because I am stationed overseas. I cannot imagine what it is like to walk in their shoes.

 I want to hear the stories of these valiant heroes and yet, I don't know if I am strong enough to handle the reality they may share with me.

  I thank God for the men and women who so bravely served, I thank Him for all of those who are serving now to keep us safe, and for those who have died so I can freely enjoy the liberties that come with living in the United States of America.

We teach our children about Memorial Day because we want them to know that freedom is not free.  It comes at a great price and should not be taken for granted.  I want them to know why they can wave their flags in peace at a parade, undisturbed. I want them to know why we thank a man in uniform while we are out at Walmart or buy a soldier in front of us his meal at the restaurant.

For now, my children do not know the sound of  wailing sirens, piercing gunfire, or rumbling tanks and for that, I am so very grateful.

 I want my children to appreciate the man sitting silently in the corner of the nursing home, his legs rendered useless, confined to a wheelchair.  I want them to listen as he tells his story of being a pilot during the war and admire the brave soul that is now a dim flicker inside of lonely man, living his last days out in a place where no one knows his story.  A man who cannot remember what he had for breakfast but he remembers the names of those he served with and those who gave their lives for our freedom.

As a Mom I awoke this morning to the sound of birds chirping and I had the security of knowing my babies were tucked safely in their beds.  I knew we would all awake and enjoy a day with Daddy, celebrating family and freedom.  It is easy to take it for granted when the tanks are not outside your window and the mortar shells are not raining down on your city.  

I had a little taste of what it must be like to have your safety stripped from you.  We recently had a murderer loose near our home and there was a huge police force looking for this person.  While the manhunt was underway we had to take precautions.  We did not play outside.  We kept the doors locked at all times and activities were cancelled that would normally take place if such a threat was not afoot.  Everywhere we went there were men in uniform with guns at their side.  We were stopped at road blocks and asked questions.  Helicopters flew over our property and I held my children a little bit closer. I was thankful for the men and women who were working day and night to keep us safe and it helped me to sleep easier knowing that the good guys were out there.  My children had never seen anything like it before but it was a good life lesson that there are bad guys out there. It was a lesson in realizing that life is not guaranteed to be safe and it can all change in a moment.  It was a reminder that every day, there are people putting their lives on the line to protect us.  Their service often goes unnoticed because we don't think about it... we live in a quiet town that is relatively safe. The protection of our military and police  is a constant, a given, that somewhere out there today there is someone safeguarding our city, our state, our country... whether we know them by name or not.  Whether we agree with everything our country stands for or not.  They still serve and protect, no matter what people believe or say or do. These men and women defend everyone's freedoms, even the freedoms of those who protest them.  They are our unsung heroes and today I just want to say "thank you for your sacrifice".