Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Gratituesday: Harvest

Oh, we've had fun this year with the Harvests God has sent.

We planted a Ginger from the grocery store. It's cool enough now that we thought we'd dig it up. Not only was it incredibly tasty, now it's a neat centerpiece, and continues to stay alive!

This was our first year to harvest grapes. We made 3.5 gallons of grape jelly!

Our raspberries went to town this year too. 17 jars of raspberry jelly.

And of course, the apples. These were given to us.

I don't have pictures of the cherries -- but we picked over 10 gallons off our tree in the back yard. And we were given lots of peaches, and enough tomatoes to make spaghetti sauce every time we've needed it all summer.

My cupboards are overflowing.

Oh, the LORD has sent a terrific harvest indeed! We are so grateful!

Outdoor Hour: Pines

We were ahead of schedule this week, since we took a nature walk and looked at Pine trees last Saturday, then noticed that the Outdoor hour was also on pines.

Here's what we found. Our next door neighbor has what I think is a Scotch pine. The needles are long and soft, but still too poky for the kids comfort. The pinecones are roundish -- very classic and perfect looking. We brought home four to study further (and maybe paint).

The park nearby has lots of cedar trees. Lisel is still into seeds from the other week, and wanted a picture of the cedar tree seeds.

We also noticed that their leaves are not like the pine leaves -- they are flat, in scales, and not poky. I'm pretty confident that at least Bennet and Lisel can now tell the difference between pines and non-pines, and between pines and cedars. Cool!

Monday, September 29, 2008

Made it Myself Monday: phone cuff

A while back, I found a men's shirt with fabulous fabric. I had to pick it up and take it home to cut up. The back and sleeves became and apron, the front became a bulletin board, and recently I found a great use for the cuffs. This is a 'concept project', so forgive the lack of perfection!

First, I cut the cuffs off the the sleeve. If I had wanted to be perfect, I would have ripped the seam so that there aren't little frays along the one side. Then I folded the cuff so that the buttons were about 1/3 the way down one side. Then I sewed up the sides until the buttons, leaving the top side open. All done!

My phone has no battery life, so this became a wall-holder to keep my phone plugged in.

You inspire me

I'm the type of girl who needs inspiration. I want a reason to wake up in the morning -- something that I know is worth sacrifice, and that delights me to think about. Something concrete and obtainable, so that I can know I'm making progress toward my dream, but something that stretches me and causes growth in the process.

I love to live in the big "What if". What if God would allow us to serve missionaries through the gifts he's given to us? What if Chester could use his skills to make a better, safer airplane for jungle missionaries? What would it take to serve in that manner?

What if we could get the schooling required to be an aviation engineer without going in to debt? What would that take? What would make life livable in the process?

What if we were to buy a house really cheap, fix it up and sell it for a profit? Could that pay off? Would it make it possible for me to stay home, not working, even while Chester was in school? What if we used some of the profit from such an idea to help others we care about, rather than selfishly keep it to ourselves?

What are the steps to achieve these dreams? Where are we in the process? Aviation mechanics license? Check. Mechanical or Aviation engineering degree? About half way there. Experience? That'll come after the degree, probably. Then raising support and joining up with JAARS. Buying a cheap house to increase it's value? Done once, partway through twice, and starting on the third. Staying home while Chester's in school? Right now part time. If God allows profit through fixing up and selling houses, then for each house I can quit roughly a year earlier. Staying sane? You bet. With a husband and father like Chester around -- things run pretty smoothly.

Sure, it's slow going. But each day we get up. Each day Chester studies. Each semester he takes more classes -- these are tangible steps toward the long term goal. In the midst of it, he lives life as the best Father and husband a family could ever have. He is our spiritual mentor, he is here for me, and available to the kids. He is a servant in every way.

Happy anniversary to my inspiration.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

A taste of Germany

I spent the past couple of days up at a Steel conference near Chicago. Sound exciting? I had a blast. My company sent me, a lowly part-time programmer to this huge conference party so that I could learn a bit more about my job and network both with the hosting company (Peddinghaus) and with our customers in attendance.

As the name suggests, Peddinghaus is a German company (though it's now based in the USA), and they really wanted to live up the German-hood of it at this party. It's called Oktoberfest (even though it was in September), and they provided tons of German food, German music, German beer, etc.... My company had a booth in the "Teknohaus", breakfast and lunch consisted of foods that I generally don't remember the names of (knockwurst and spaetzle - I remember those two names) in the "Biergarten" (which, as you might guess also had unlimited drinks of all sorts available to attendees). Supper was a formal, three course dinner with entertainment. The night I was there, we ate an incredible salad, then a main course of braided salmon on mashed potatoes, chicken-fried-chicken (I think) and potato pancakes. (Yes, meat, potatoes, meat and potatoes. And oh yes, three green beans and two carrot halves as garnish). Then apple dumplings with cinnamon ice cream for dessert. Heavenly. Then Lou Holtz, who noone could believe I'd never heard of, spoke. Then I got to go "home" to a hotel to find out that I'd been bumped to a jacuzzi room. Incredible.

I'd love to know how much beer us 3600 guests consumed. I didn't do my part in contributing, but I saw others drinking beer with breakfast.

Besides all the food, I actually had an incredible time too. I met with customers - most of whom had a question relating to CNC (Peddinghaus is a CNC machine company, and I'm the CNC programmer in my company). I answered their questions, and wrote down bugs that they reported, promising to fix them (and I will). I gave several of them my direct number so that they can call me when they have a question, rather than having our support department tell them there's no way to do what they want. I also met with Peddinghaus programmers, so that I can make our software interface better with theirs. I felt like I built a pretty good rapport between us, which was a major part of the goal.

And finally, after programming CNC for nearly two years, I saw a CNC machine. Make that several CNC machines. I was awed. I'll spare you the details, since I'm sure I would consider them horribly boring if I didn't work with them. I think you can watch videos at the Peddinghaus website if you're dying of curiousity. The Ring-Of-Fire machine wowed me the most. Judging from others' comments, I wasn't alone in that.
If their site was working for me right now, I'd post a picture, or at least a link. To culminate my experience, I watched a machine make a beer stein shaped piece of steel out of a 3/4 inch thick steel plate in under 1.5 minutes. I was so amazed that they let me keep the beer stein as a momento. Here it is:

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Super Duper Home-made Ice cream

We're on WIC (a government program for low-income families with small children that provides supplemental food). It's a real blessing in some ways -- one of which is free milk. They estimate that each kid drinks tons of milk - and I suppose some kids do. But mine don't. So we always have extra milk hanging around. We make things like yogurt and cottage cheese when we're feeling healthy. But most often we make pudding or ice cream. Here's my favorite cheapo recipe for homemade ice cream.

3 quarts milk (that's because we have a 3 quart ice cream machine)
2 packages instant pudding (we usually use pudding)
1 Tbsp Mexican vanilla
1/4 cup white or yellow cake mix
pinch salt

Whisk all together until well mixed. Process in ice cream maker. Eat until your tummy hurts.

Freeze excess in something plastic or glass, since it gets reasonably hard, and you'll want to soften it in the microwave for a minute before scooping again.

Here's some add-ins.

For caramel-pecan: We get pecan rolls from food net, scrape the pecans off the top and mix it in to a caramel sauce. Then cool it thoroughly, and stir it into the ice cream. That's what we made last night.

For chocolate: substitute about a third of a box of brownie mix for the cake mix, use chocolate pudding, and we add in a couple of tablespoons of cocoa too. Then we make the rest of the box of brownie mix, stir in the called-for oil and water, but not eggs to make a thick paste. We freeze the paste, then cut it into chunks and stir it in to the chocolate ice cream.

For chocolate-peanut putter: add peanut butter to the brownie paste mix above.

For fruit: Make a sauce of fruit and a bit of sugar (raspberries and sugar, peaches and sugar, etc). Cool the sauce, stir in to ice cream.....

Or try fall-spice: Stir in pumpkin pie spices. It tastes a lot like chai.

You get the idea. Now I need to go have a scoop of last night's caramel-pecan.

picture from whatscookingamerica.net

Monday, September 22, 2008

My Day

Today, instead of blogging, I:

7:00 woke up, remembering why I'm so tired. Oh yes, I spend yesterday afternoon picking apples.

7:10 went on a walk, just a short one, since the kids will be up soon.
On my walk, found an interesting trash pile, and ended up bringing home a mirror for the toy room. Now the kids can model their dress-up clothes for themselves :)

7:30 start looking for canning supplies. Today is my only chance to deal with these, I tell myself. I've been dreading it for, well, hours.

7:45 Find the weight to my pressure canner. Feel ecstatic. These will go so much faster if I can pressure cook them!

8:10 actually begin (after breakfast) cutting apples. Fill the 18 quart roaster first, and set it cooking out on the back porch.

8:40 already on my second pot -- my super giant pressure canner. Almost cry when I realize that I don't have the seal. Decide to look for it.

9:00 give up in despair. Back to cutting apples. I'm just cutting them, not peeling and coring, so it goes pretty quickly.

9:40 Realize that I already have blisters on my hand from the knife and switch to a bigger one with a one-piece handle that's a bit easier on my hands.

By 10:30 I've filled pots for every burner on my stove, and their happily cooking away. I decide to finish up by peeling, coring and chopping the remainder, then crock-pot cooking them into chunky applesauce.

10:50. Peeling and coring and chopping is really slow. I lose patience and start chopping too fast. Cut my finger and it bleeds all over the place. Thinking that I'm brilliant for remembering Chet's claim that super glue is the best for cuts, I super glue it. Then it occurs to me that it would have been a good idea to control the bleeding first -- the blood is making holes and dripping out the super glue, and looking really ugly. I add some toilet paper and put a bunch of pressure on it.
10:52 Realize that I've just super glued my hands together. Uh oh. Fortunately it's not totally dry, and I didn't need all that skin anyway.
10:53 Notice that while I detached my hands from each other, my fingers of my left hand are still stuck together. Pry them apart. Now I have a mass of toilet paper glued to my finger. Decide to cut it down to a small bump, then return to apples.

11:15 Call my mother for backup. She agrees to come help sauce apples when she's done with work. What a wonderful lady!

11:30 Feed the kids lunch and head out to food net.

12:35 Return, eat another snack and cut up some more apples. This peeling and coring stuff is really awful. I tell myself that this is the last time I'm going with that notion.

12:45 Mom arrives. Hurray! She brings her own saucer, and I find all the pieces to mine. We're in business. Two pots look ready to sauce, the 18 quart roaster is burnt, and two are barely started. We sauce the two ready pots in a matter of minutes. I can't believe how fast this goes when the apples are really really done.

1:15 Decide that I'd better not sauce anymore just yet. We need jars. I dig out and wash. We fill them. I wash some more. We fill them. Eventually I get the apples out of my canner so that we can use it for, um, canning.

2:00 finally put the kids down for naps.

2:30 This place is a mess. I'm going to run out of jars. Hey, while we're at this, why don't we make some special flavors?

2:40 Dig out some raspberries from the freezer to add to applesauce. Wow, that's yummy. Try the same with strawberries. Good too.

3:00 As long as it's this messy, I really should make a few batches of Raspberry jelly up.

3:30 Oh, no. I've use every jar I own, every jar my mother has loaned me, and every jar my mother-in-law has loaned me. And we have lots more applesauce. Not to mention jelly that's started. Oh, I've run out of sugar now too. That's what jelly does.

3:45 The only thing that isn't already holding applesauce is Styrofoam cups that Chester carries coffee to school in. Fill 14 with applesauce.

5:30 The last batch is finally done in the canner. The raspberry jelly is done too. The kitchen is in shambles like I've never seen before. Where are the kids? Oh, yes, killing each other in the back yard.

5:31 Go to break up the fight. Sure I'll play baseball with you for a while. Why are you kids so crabby? Oh, maybe because Mom's ignored you all day? No, because we're hungry, Mom. Oh no, it's supper time! Start some noodles and sauce for supper. Throw a loaf of French bread in the oven, and try to clear a space on the table to eat.

6:15 Done eating. Dad takes kids, Mom cleans the kitchen. How did I get so lucky?

7:30 The kitchen is clean. Relax and take a deep breath.

8:00 Stick the kids to bed. They're tired too.

8:15 Oh no, there's still a crockpot full of applesauce sitting behind the couch in the living room. Chester suggests baggies. All I have are flimsy wally world sandwich bags. They seem to do okay though.

Now, finally, take a look around and tally. Let's see. 16 Quarts, 14 3-cup freezer jars, 19 pints, 14 Styrofoam cups, 4 baggies. 18 jars of jelly (almost all are pints, a few half-pints). I've earned my ice cream today. Chester humors me and makes home-made ice cream with pecans and caramel in it. What a guy.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Living Simply Saturday: Contentment

I've been pondering today, just what is the difference between living simply and living frugally?

Certainly, there is a difference - one can live simply but not frugally, and one can live frugally but not simply (we do). Simplicity seems to imply an absence of clutter - either materially or time-wise. Those who live the simple life have a simple schedule and fewer possessions. Those who live frugally, rather, just spend little money. Simple living is a particular quality of life. One that I aspire to. Frugal living is really just a quantity issue -- how much money is being spent.

That all to say, that in both a frugal life and a simple life, contentment is key. I wrote last week about controlling wants (by reducing exposure to media). If my wants are in control, I recognize that I already have what I want, and don't have to run out to buy more stuff (which is important for both the frugal and the simple life). I also recognize that I'm happy with life the way it is, and don't need to run around doing more stuff (again allowing a simpler, and probably more frugal life).

And, the key to contentment is gratefulness. Instead of focusing on what I don't have, I can focus on what I do have, and how rich my life already is. I could write on gratefulness and its importance for hours, but I'll keep this post simple and close with a quote from a local multi-millionaire. He's known for saying:

"What's my secret to success? Just three words: Count your blessings."

picture from Gratefulness.org

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Dating my spouse - 88 Frugal Dates

Decided to take a date? Got a babysitter? Spending all your money on the babysitter? No problem! Here's as many free and cheap dates as we could think of...
  1. Swim in the moonlight
  2. Attend special Olympics
  3. Play in a kid's playground
  4. Take a walk - in the woods or on the beach
  5. Dress formally then eat at a fast-food joint
  6. Attend a local high school sporting or music event
  7. Play in bumper cars or drive a go-cart
  8. Visit a friend in the hospital or nursing home
  9. Wax your car together in the park
  10. Volunteer at a soup kitchen or rescue mission
  11. Take a water color course (or other art course) together
  12. Pick local fruit in season, take it home and make dessert together
  13. Work out or jog together
  14. Play a sport (frisbee, tennis, etc) together
  15. Visit local tourist attractions (zoos, museums)
  16. Walk through a greenhouse (we got engaged on this date)
  17. Visit a local National park or Wildlife refuge
  18. Tour a local vineyard or farm
  19. Go window shopping
  20. Watch people at a mall
  21. Take a scenic drive (or tour Christmas lights)
  22. Climb a lookout tour
  23. Join a political rally
  24. Pretend to be tourists, and have strangers take pictures of the two of you together
  25. Eat a picnic (outside or inside)
  26. Visit an observatory, or just watch stars from your backyard
  27. Play a board game
  28. Grab ice cream from the grocery store, and eat it right out of the carton with two spoons
  29. Visit a nearby town
  30. Attend a horse show or county fair
  31. Listen to foreign music
  32. Take karate
  33. Eat grocery store samples
  34. Visit a pet shop
  35. Go horse-back riding
  36. Go bowling
  37. Go to an open house, or a parade of homes
  38. Go to the dollar store, spend $5 and make something out of your purchases
  39. Sit in a coffee house
  40. Read books in a bookstore (one of our favorites right now)
  41. Go thrift store shopping
  42. Take CPR together
  43. Walk around a college campus - be sure to visit the library!
  44. Ride bikes (or mopeds) together
  45. Go tubing in a local river
  46. Try cross country skiing
  47. Visit an antique store, look at the toys you used to have
  48. Visit local botanical gardens
  49. Beech comb or dig for fossils
  50. Roll down a hill
  51. Collect natural artifacts -- wild flowers or pinecones
  52. Play laser tag
  53. Skip rocks on a nearby pond (or whatever body of water might be nearby)
  54. Go fishing (dig your own worms)
  55. Go sledding or build a snow fort (or have a snowball fight), make snow ice cream for dessert!
  56. Be silly in a photo booth
  57. Fly a kite
  58. Write up survey or interview questions, then interview/survey strangers
  59. Play in the rain, jump in the puddles
  60. Take a tour of an art gallery
  61. Rake leaves and jump in the piles
  62. Ride a ferris wheel
And, some for at-home after the kids are in bed.
  1. Read Shakespeare together (or any other book -- we often read a marriage and family book, we have friends that enjoy reading fiction together)
  2. Internet surf together -- plan a dream vacation or look at dream houses
  3. Eat dessert by candlelight
  4. solve a crossword
  5. Reminisce about your favorite "together" songs, and burn a CD of them
  6. Pray together
  7. Have a water gun fight
  8. Carry a Mistletoe around, and use it
  9. Make S'more's on the grill
  10. Make New Years resolutions
  11. Read poetry to each other
  12. Bake something
  13. Finger paint together
  14. Have a jump rope contest
  15. Tie-dye or paint t-shirts
  16. Plant flowers
  17. Pillow fight
  18. Play with tinker Toys
  19. Sing together
  20. Share a bag of Hershey kisses
  21. Take a personality test
  22. Do a craft: wood carving, polymer clay modeling, and wool needle felting are among our favorites. We often do these at a coffee shop.
  23. Learn sign language together
  24. Write your congressman
  25. Sit on a porch swing
  26. Read children's books together -- maybe ones from your childhood
  27. Play the Ungame for couples

By my count, this is 89 Dates. If you add some comments, we can have 100 cheap dates!

Cheap Dates is a great book on this topic, as is 2002 Things to do on a Date. I haven't read 52 Great Cheap Dates or Dating for under a Dollar, but they look good too.

Nature Walk: Weed Seeds

I followed the "Green Hour Challenge" for a while several months ago, but without a blog, had no where to report back. Now the challenge has moved to Handbook of Nature Study, and I just found them! I'm so excited to join in, this time with a blog!

The challenge this week was to look at weeds and seeds. So we went looking for weed seeds. Here's what we found.

A dandelion in our very own yard!

Pigweed Velvet Leaf seed head -- isn't it neat?!
The kids were pretty thrilled to find that when we shook the pigweed velvet leaf seed head, seeds came out.

I don't know what this is, but the kids insisted that it was a seed, and we needed a picture of it. Do you know?

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Sweet Cherry

This tree (on the left) is the sweet cherry tree growing in my back yard. Pretty, eh? It's about 2 years old now, and we're hoping it will bear next year.

Like my new look? I hope I do, I sure spent enough time on it :)

Tomorrow, a real post. I promise. I have all the pictures uploaded, it's just definitely time for bed now.


This article from In the Heart of my Home really hit me this morning. So was I. And a better wife, probably.

This needs to be a new habit for me - computer only during naps, and then only after I've had my alone-time. I don't want my kids to suffer from my new blogging habit, and I know they did yesterday when I spent most of the morning researching blogging options while alternatly scolding them for making messes and reading stories to them. I want to be all theirs when I'm home, not only half theirs.

Last night we took a really neato nature walk. Pictures will be posted later tonight.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Minimizing Monday: Life without toys?

Thanks Kendra for the timely reminder today. I’ve been reminded so many times recently that the toys need another going through. I just purged our toys at the end of July — getting rid of a full half of them. But the room still looks like this:
The Toy Room

Clearly, too much.

I’ve been toying with the idea lately of living for a time without toys (or with very few toys). In reality, my kids don’t play with toys all that much. They play outside, do art stuff, read books, etc. But the toys are played with maybe an hour a day (and most of that is dress-up stuff).
About a month ago, my sister-in-law decided to try a week without toys. She boxed up every toy she could find, and put them under the stairs for a whole week. In the end, each of her five kids (at least the ones old enough to talk) admitted that they didn’t really miss the toys. Instead they played outside more, spend less time picking up and had less to fight over. She ended up giving about half of the toys back to them, but since then, we’ve both been really thinking that less is better. I don’t think I’m ready to box up all the toys just yet — we just built those shelves. But I’m definately giving these things more thought.
What’s your experience? How do you deal with hyper-toy-itis, and how do you kids respond to the purging? I’m so impressed with Kendra’s kids letting her get rid of stuffed animals! Our kids would mourn those for days.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

First John purpose statements

So I know this isn’t probably the coolest ever blogging topic.  But I’m in a Bible study that’s studying First John right now.  And since this blog is really more of a journal, and intended to be rather eclectic in nature, and since it’s what I’ve been thinking about, I decided to post about it.
First John is one of those books that just doesn’t flow for me.  I’m happy to study it because I always get so lost reading it.  So one of the first things we did was to notice purpose statements.  Why does John say that he wrote this book?  Here’s my results:
Reference Text
1:4 to make our joy complete
2:1 so that you may not sin
2:12 because your sins have been forgiven you for His name’s sake
2:13 because you know Him who has been from the beginning

because you have overcome the evil one

because you know the Father
2:14 because you know Him who has been from the beginning

because you are strong and the word of God abides in you and you have overcome the evil one.
2:21 because you do know it [the truth]
5:13 so that you may know that you have eternal life (you who believe in the name of the son of God)
Did I miss any?
Isn’t that a huge amount of encouragement?!? It surprised me to look through this list and realize that this book was meant to be uplifting and encouraging to believers. I want to keep that context in mind as I work through the book in a little finer grain. This book is clearly for believers, and clearly intended to build them up.

Living Simply Saturday: Planning for a day off

Several months ago, we started attending a new church that is an hour from our home. Now, I realize that an hour isn’t a long ways when you live in a larger city.  But we live in the heart of the country where a mid-sized town is considered a big city.  And around here, driving twenty minutes to church when there’s a perfectly good church five minutes away is ludicrous.
But we found a church where we love the teaching, love the format, and that we love being a part of.  And it’s an hour away.  So every Sunday morning, we rise, pack into the car and drive an hour with four small children.  Because we’re already nearby (Chet’s parents live about 1.3 hours away), we go to visit them after church, and generally end up spending the entire day away from home.
This means that some special planning has to happen on Saturday.  Namely, I prepare an in-the-car breakfast (muffins), and an in-the-car lunch snack (crackers and cheese) on Saturday.  Then I also look through our food and find something to take to Grandma and Papa’s for supper.  I also pack changes of clothes, anything we need for church, stuff to take naps, etc.
How is this simple?  It’s not.  But Sunday is.  Having done all of my normal work on Saturday, Sunday has become, quite literally, a day off.  The cooking is done, the dishes are done, and we won’t be home to mess anything up.  We spend the morning at church, then the kids nap for a bit during the afternoon, and run around playing with their uncles, aunts and cousins all afternoon — we don’t even have to train or entertain them on Sunday.  After supper Sunday evening, we pack up and they sleep the whole way home.  Everything about it is a complete day off.
I’ve always read the benefits of taking a “sabbath”.  And even though my day of rest isn’t on Saturday, I enjoy it immensely.  Every week, I think to myself. “Wow, this is SOOO worth the trouble of planning on Saturday!”  Then I can start the week again on Monday renewed and refreshed in both spirit and body!

Friday, September 12, 2008

Frugal Friday: Managing wants

I’m often asked “how do you do it?” by people when they first find out that we live on a little over half of what our state considers ‘poverty’ for a family of six. It’s really an outrageous number, in my opinion, but that’s another topic. My general answer to that question is “We don’t have a TV, so our wants are easier to manage.” This certifies me as completely insane, and whoever asked usually walks away at that point.
Living frugally falls into three essentials for me.
  • Finding ways to meet our needs cheaply
  • Knowing the difference between needs and wants, and
  • Managing our wants.
Not having a TV goes a long way toward want management. I’m not so much talking about the shows (thought they’re included, for sure), but about the ads. Industries spend billions of dollars trying to figure out the most effective way to get me to buy their stuff. If I think their dollars on advertising don’t effect my spending, I’m pretty cocky. Instead of continuously battling my own desire for newer, better things that ads incur, it’s easier for me to be careful what media I consume. (Even sale ads in newspapers are difficult: “Look, clothes are on clearance at Kohls” immediately makes me think “Wow, I can’t afford to miss such an unbeatable sale! I’m sure I’ll need a couple of new shirts really soon.”)
So now, it boils down to this: if I’m careful about the media I allow in our house, not just me, but our whole family has fewer wants. This in turn makes living more simply and frugally much easier. We don’t feel like we’re denying ourselves all these pleasures, because we aren’t. We simply don’t want them.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Dating my spouse - Finding a babysitter

The hardest part of dating, for us anyway, is finding a babysitter.  With four kids, our family is a bit to daunting for the average teenager, and none of them are old enough for us to hire to watch their siblings.  Here’s some things we’ve tried, with varying success.  But perhaps they’ll help you out:
  • Hire sisters.  If one can’t manage all the kids, perhaps two can.
  • Look for large families — their older children can usually handle a brood.
  • Look to relatives.  We have hired aunts and uncles with good success.
  • Trade other families.  This works best with similar sized families — watch their kids for their date in trade for them watching your kids for your date.
  • Date at unconventional times.  My favorite time to date is on a weekday morning.  So many more things (like museums) are open, and we’ve found that a stay-at-home mom doesn’t mind watching our kids for a little while in exchange for us watching her kids during a “normal” date time.
  • Date after the kids go to bed.  If one babysitter can’t handle all the kids, have them come over just after bedtime — then they just have to handle “sleeping” kids.  It’s much less stress, and we find that coffee shops stay open pretty late, allowing us to still escape.
  • Find a Grandma.  For a while, an older couple in our church was eager to watch the kids.  The kids played well at their house, and instead of payment, we bought them small gifts (usually potted plants or ice cream).
  • Tap unmarried friends.  Some of my unmarried friends get lonely for family life, and really welcome the idea of a free, home-cooked meal in exchange for playing with the kids for a couple of hours afterwards.
  • Set up a POKI night.  Parent’s Out, Kids In.  A group of four couples at our church did this once a month for a while.  We all went together to make a nice dinner for a few college students, who then watched our kids in the church nursery for 1.5-2 hours while each couple took their own date.
  • Contract a sitter.  Instead of looking for a sitter every week, I prefer to find someone willing to come once a week for 3 months.  Then we only have to go through the stress of finding someone a few times a year.
  • Rotate sitters.  If no one is interested in actually watching your clan every week for three months, perhaps you can find several families (or individuals) who will watch them once every 8-10 weeks, then rotate sitters.
We always pay our babysitters, either with a gift, a babysitting trade or with money.  We don’t pay a lot (because we can’t afford a lot), but we feel that it’s important to pay them as a reminder to ourselves that our marriage is worth investing in.  Your marriage is too.
Oh, and if all these fail and you’re still without a babysitter, take an at-home date (think dessert by candlelight after the kids are in bed….)

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Habit Training and Rewards

Charlotte Mason talks a lot about “habit training” of young children. She seems to advocate training into “habits” all sorts of behavior - from controlling a bad tember to closing the front door when going out to play. A new and desirable behavior is only difficult at first, she says. Once it becomes habit, it still requires effort, but is remarkably easier. She recommends to all parents to teach their children several desirable habits - from a sweet temper to a tidy room - slowly, but deliberately, and to stave off bad habits by replacing them with good ones.
Good habits, Bad habits
The more I think on this, the more sense it makes to me. We are, indeed, creatures of habit. But how do we, as adults, train our own habits? We can remind ourselves continuously, re-convincing ourself to follow the new “rule” at each moment, and that works sometimes. Just look at how many people have great success with the flylady program. For me, though, I generally need something more concrete (probably because I can’t convince myself to read as many emails as the Flylady sends in a day!).
Something that has worked for me in the past is to pay myself. When I started using cloth diapers, all I could see was what a pain it was. I didn’t like washing them out, I didn’t like pinning them (I use the old-fashioned type), I didn’t like the smell… It was really difficult to use them. “This saves us lots of money” didn’t really cut it. Finally, I sat down and figured how much money it really was saving. At the time, each disposable diaper cost us about 18 cents. So I figured that I saved 15 cents for each cloth I used.
I started a piggy bank, and deposited a dime in it each time I changed a diaper. At the time, we were pretty strapped for cash, and a dime felt like a reasonable reward - plus I still saved money over the cost of a plastic diaper. I earned nearly a dollar a day this way, and when I had reached $18 or so in the piggy bank, I rewarded myself with bought a length of fabric that I’d fallen in love with and figured I could never afford. I still love the fabric, and I still use cloth diapers now five years later.
Next, I tried it with hanging up laundry to dry rather than use the dryer. It saves us 50 cents when I do this, so I paid myself a quarter for each load. That turned into my garage sale cash, and bought, well, more things than it should have!
After a habit is established, I quit paying myself to do it. When I falter, I remind myself of the things I still like about it: the smell of nature-dryed laundery, the peaceful quiet of hanging it out in the yard, the opportunity to lock myself in the bathroom alone for a few minutes to wash out a diaper…
That’s been a few years ago now, and I’m thinking that it’s time to start paying myself to develop new habits again. Back then, it was money management habits. Now I need time management habits: getting up on time, starting the day with a walk or at least stretching, going to bed at a reasonable hour, maybe washing the dishes a better way…. I think I’ll pick one and pay myself a quarter. When I have enough added up, I’ll get a new haircut!
What new habits are you working on? How do you reward yourself?

Raspberries are ripe!

Look! Our raspberries are ripe!  Here we come Raspberry jam, raspberry sauce, raspberry smoothies!!!

Any suggestions or recipes for raspberries? Leave a comment!

Monday, September 8, 2008

A gift from God! (and a gift for you)

Look what God sent us this weekend!
A free keyboard!
A free keyboard!
Isn’t that cool?!  My brother-in-law found it in the trash last night on his way home.  They stopped and talked to the man at the house, who said he was throwing it out because there was a couple of dead keys that would cost $150 each to repair.  So we brought it home, took it all apart, and gave it a good cleaning.  Good as new! The kids totally love playing it, and as long as they leave the volume button down, I love them playing it too.
This actually makes two pianos for us.  The other one is in the basement apartment where the brothers-in-law live, and out of respect for them, I won’t publish the picture of the mess…
In reality, we probably won’t keep it, our church, it turns out, has been considering buying such a keyboard to use in worship. I think this would be a great addition to the worship team, so we’ll likely donate it.  The timing on this is just too good to think that it’s coincidence and actually meant for us, not church, don’t you think?
But, in gratefulness, I’m passing on the giving.  Here’s a monster hoodie for you.
Monster Hoodie
Monster Hoodie
The monster
The monster
They normally look something like this
They normally look something like this
I’ve been making these for birthdays for a year or so, various kinds.  This is my first trial at a painted one, and they went over pretty well at last weeks birthday.  This one is purple with a green dragon wrapping around under the left arm.  I’m hoping someday to start selling these on etsy, but haven’t gotten there yet. Do you think they would sell?  (For, say $15-$20?) It’s a “youth XL” size, and would probably fit someone who wears an ladies small or is just a bit smaller.  (It’s definitely too small for me!)
We were exposed to the flu last weekend, so here’s the deal.  Leave a comment on this post telling me your best (preferably natural and/or cheap) tip for keeping kids (or yourself) healthy in the cold/flu season.  I’ll close comments Friday evening (2008-09-12), and randomly select a winner of the painted Monster Hoodie.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Living Simply Saturday: Playing Outside

My favorite tip on keeping life simple is to play outside. The more time we spend outside, the less time we’re strewing toys all over the house, therefore the less time I have to dedicate to cleaning and straightening. In the warm weather (which is vanishing rapidly), the kids can easily spend at least six hours a day playing outside. I encourage this by making sure they have plenty to play with, permission to “explore”, tools for making and building “stuff”, and by playing with them when I can.

Matthias rides bike in the driveway.
Matthias climbs up the slide
Lisel builds a sand castle

Friday, September 5, 2008

Frugal Friday: Rag Bags

I’m new to this, (blogging and Frugal Friday), so I’m sure this idea has been shared before. But, I love my rag bags. I one to store rags in the kitchen - they substitute for paper towels. I use a second to store plastic bags in the kitchen. A third for bathroom rags. That way, I can grab one, wipe up the sink and toss it down the laundry chute. And a fourth for “wet wipes”. Just dampen a rag in the sink and clean that baby! Here’s a quick tutorial.
A bag for wet wipes (wash cloths)
A bag for wet wipes (wash cloths)
A bag to hold rags or plastic bags
A bag to hold rags or plastic bags
How to make a rag bag
Your rag bag is done!

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Dating my spouse - Why?

My husband is a pretty flexible guy, and is willing to compromise on almost any issue. But one place that he sticks his foot down is on dates. He insists (and I’m glad that he does) that we take a date each and every week. We have four kids, so this sometimes seems like a pain when I have to find a babysitter every week. I’m going to start a dating series on Thursdays about how to make weekly dating work. But first, the why.
Good marriages take work - we all know this. What we tend to forget is that all this work doesn’t come naturally in marriage (it doesn’t anywhere else either, does it?). It doesn’t take long for communication to slip into something not a kind and considerate as it used to be. It’s easy to develop independent interests and hobbies that leave less time together. Then there’s fatigue from the kids, stress from work and the “oh, you’re not as perfect as I thought you were” blues - we really need a planned defense.
Dating is marriage maintenance and a one to defend and plan for a strong marriage. It prevents us from becoming just roomates — people who live together but otherwise have nothing in common. And it allows a weekly escape from the stresses of life where we can reconnect and build each other up. And it’s fun! It doesn’t have to be expensive, and can be as creative as you wish. Most of all, it provides a natural way to spend time together, restoring communication, having fun, and keeping the romance kindled.
In the next few weeks I’ll discuss some of the ways we’ve made dating work even with a bucketload of kids, cheap dates, and keeping dating creative.
Meanwhile, visit Still Dating my Spouse. (I just joined the site, and really like the content - but there’s no affiliation to this liketrees blog ).

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Home-made Pudding: a terrific (frugal) treat!

Matthias love his pudding!
A favorite treat around here is home-made pudding.  It’s reasonably cheap, reasonably healthy, and really, really yummy.
Here’s the recipe that we use:
Vanilla Pudding

2 1/2 - 3 cups milk
1/4 cup cornstarch
Mix in a sauce pan, and heat over medium heat, stirring continuously, until it's thickened

Add in:

1/2 cup brown sugar
pinch salt
1/4 cup margarine or butter
2 tsp vanilla

Stir until butter is melted.  Then enjoy warm, or refridgerate until cool.
It’s a super bed-time snack for a cool evening!

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Kindergarten curriculum - Attainments for a child of six

In our state, we have to register homeschooling by the time our child is six years old. Bennet turns six in October, so we had to register kingergarten this year. We’re required to teach Language Arts, Social Studies, Science, Math, and Health. The Ambleside year 0 group is a yahoo group dedicated to Charlotte Mason methods for kids too young to be in a rigorous academic environment (i.e. kindergarten). They have a “”A Formidable List of Attainments for a Child of Six”, a reprint of a curriculum outline from a CM school in the 1890’s. I used it to outline objectives for this school year.
Here’s the original list:
1. To recite, beautifully, 6 easy poems and hymns
2. to recite, perfectly and beautifully, a parable and a psalm
3. to add and subtract numbers up to 10, with dominoes or counters
4. to read--what and how much, will depend on the child
5. to copy in print-hand from a book
6. to know the points of the compass with relation to their own home,
where the sun rises and sets, and the way the wind blows
7. to describe the boundries of their own home
8. to describe any lake, river, pond, island etc. within easy reach
9. to tell quite accurately (however shortly)
3 stories from Bible history,
3 from early English, and
3 from early Roman history
10. to be able to describe 3 walks and 3 views
11. to mount in a scrap book a dozen common wildflowers,
with leaves (one every week); to name these,
describe them in their own words,
and say where they found them.
12. to do the same with leaves and flowers of 6 forest trees
13. to know 6 birds by song, colour and shape
14. to send in certain Kindergarten or other handiwork, as directed
15. to tell three stories about their own "pets"--rabbit, dog or cat.
16. to name 20 common objects in French, and say a dozen little sentences
17. to sing one hymn, one French song, and one English song
18. to keep a caterpillar and tell the life-story of a butterfly from his own observations.
And my Objectives for Kindergarten:
Language Arts:
  • To read (we’re using Teach your child to read in 100 easy lessons)
  • To write, copying simple sentances or short verses.
  • To learn twenty objects in Mandarin Chinese
  • To learn one song in Mandarin Chinese
  • To know North, East, South and West from the nearby park (our home is on a slant)
  • To recognize and describe nearby landmarks
  • To describe how to walk to the park, the store and the mailbox (3 walks)
  • To describe the what we see from our backyard and from the backyards of two sets of grandparents (3 views)
  • To keep a nature journal with flowers, leaves and other found objects
  • To identify nearby wildlife: blackbirds, swallows, sparrows, wild rabbits, racoons and some bugs
  • To raise a caterpillar, release it as a butterfly and both tell and draw it’s life story.
  • To add number up to ten, with visual aids (like fingers to count), but without pencil and paper.
Social Studies
  • To sing six easy hymns
  • To recite or sing six nursery rhymes
  • To recite one psalm (Psalm 1)
  • To tell one of Jesus’ parables
  • To tell three Bible stories
  • To know the names of all major body parts (not in attainments list)
  • To know proper cleaning of all major body parts (also not in attainments list)
  • To know the boundary of our yard (where he is safely permitted to go)
  • To memorize our address and phone number, and know examples of when to call 911.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Taking off the masks

Last night we went to an open house at a friend-of-a-friend’s who has just bought a house.  Normally I love this kind of thing.  But this man, the Father of the household is someone that I have a hard time not dispising.  I don’t like the way he treats other people - always demeaning while puffing up himself. The whole time there, I was irritated — the new house was really nice, and they had decorated it with Christian icons, etc that seemed to me to say “look at how spiritual this household is”, all the while hearing snippets of conversations where the Father was tearing down others and strutting his pompousity.
On the way home, it spurred a conversation that started with “ugh, I like him less the better I know that family”, and, over time, proceeded to “how shallow and judgemental are we, to spend a whole evening irritated with one man, rather than looking beyond his obvious mask to see how hurting this man must be”.  We are the wrong ones here.  Rather than ask questions to try to get to know why this man is so rude, I avoid him.  Rather than stand up for the person being injured in his conversation, I leave the room.  His wife and daughter are both very sweet - why don’t I get to know them better, and be an encouragement to them?  Because I don’t like the Father.  This is a bad attitude, and I need to change it.
At the same time, Do I wear a similar mask?  Trying to look perfect while mistreating others?  This, too, must not be.  Humble me, Lord, until I can think of others, not just myself and my annoyances and feelings in situations.  Let my world not revolve around me.