The Mother of All Yard Sales

I’ve been a bit quiet on the blog lately. And not without good reason. Last week, my family hosted a yard sale. But this isn’t just any yard sale. Nope. This is the mother of  all yard sales.

Every May, right after Mother’s Day, the insanity begins. It takes a full week to set everything up. The whole shindig takes place at my in-laws. It’s our family’s stuff, their stuff, the neighbors’ stuff, and my brothers and sister-in-law’s stuff. But wait, there’s more. They also sell of anything that people  leave behind when they move out of a house–with full permission to do whatever they want with it. And we also had quite a few pieces of donated furniture whose proceeds were to go to a children’s cancer research fund.

It was a LOT of stuff. The pictures don’t do it justice. Plus all the furniture was across the street in the neighbor’s driveway.

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As usual, the weather was less than cooperative for the majority of the week. But the sale must go on. So my husband constructs what he refers to as “Little Haiti.” (Please don’t misconstrue that as a derogatory label. He actually was in Haiti. So I guess he would know.)

Tarps, tarps and more tarps. So folks can shop, rain or shine.

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And rain it did. On Thursday, hubby spent all his time adjusting tarps, re-sinking tent pegs, and tightening ropes.

 

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The kids were troopers. They unpacked glassware, manned their bake sale, counted out change and otherwise fine tuned all their hard earned yard sale skills.

 

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We got rid of a lot. And we may have found a few new treasures. I’m sure Ella can’t live without her new specs.

 

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It seems every year, we find more items we just don’t need, and we’re happy to pass it on to someone else. A little extra cash and a little more closet space. A lot of exhausting, hard work. But worth it!

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Feeding a Crowd of Kids–the Nacho Bar

In case you can’t tell, I love feeding people. I’m kind of like that little old lady in The Wedding Singer who got excited watching Adam Sandler eat her homemade meatballs. (Except I don’t rap. If you haven’t seen the movie–never mind.)

And believe it or not, I like my kids’ friends. (A perk of homeschooling is having a little more input in the friend department.) Middle schoolers were always my favorite group to teach way back when and I like having a crowd of kids in my house from time to time.

Abby had some of her friends over for a birthday celebration recently. And I gotta feed them, right?

There are a few tricks to this whole thing. There are different diets. Different tastes. Different appetites. Plus, I wanted something super simple that was make ahead friendly, easy on the budget, and nutritious to boot.

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Nacho Bar to the rescue. This is crazy easy, people. Brown up a load of seasoned ground beef (being generous with salt, pepper, chili, garlic and onion powder). Add some bowls of shredded cheese, sour cream, salsa, guacamole and a big ole bunch of chips (I do like to choose organic for tortilla chips) and you’re done! Let the kids dig in and help themselves.

They can customize their plate to their hearts’ content. They can easily get seconds. So simple, I actually have time to eat.

And if you want to be super lazy (like me) you can buy pre-shredded cheese and jarred salsa. (I know I usually do that myself. But every once in a while isn’t going to hurt anyone.)

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I did actually make the guacamole myself. Cause anyone can smash an avocado.

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Everyone’s bellies were happily full and all I had to do to clean up was put a bunch of bowls in the dishwasher. Yay! Another victory in low stress entertaining.

How do you feed a crowd of kids?

* Want another easy entertaining idea? Check out the Sandwich Bar post!


What I’ve Been Eating On My Whole30 Journey

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Last week, I came out and told you that I was beginning a eating plan known as Whole30 to help me reset my cravings and deal with some other pesky issues. I know you’ve been breathlessly waiting to find out what I’ve been eating these days. Right? Well, if not, I understand. No hard feelings. However I would encourage you to read on. Because whether you’re on a specific eating plan or not, we can all benefit from this type of food.

All the Creative Options

Once I started looking into this idea, and doing a little recipe research, I quickly realized that I had been in a recipe rut. My creative dinner mojo was missing. So it was a little exciting to do some looking around and find so many tasty options. Because, yes, I could easily eat salad for just about every meal, but this lady needs a little culinary interest. Creating in the kitchen, playing with new flavors, trying a new vegetable–it all energizes me and makes me forget all about that block of cheese calling to me from the frig…almost.

The Prep

The first day or two of this little plan, I went shopping. Actually, I went shopping a lot. I bought veggies. Eggs. Meat. Berries. Then, a day or two later, I got a little more. You know, just in case. I made piles of my Veggie Bacon Fritters (you can’t hate a plan that involves bacon) and salmon patties and froze about half of them. I shredded a big bag of cabbage, carrots and radishes for a quick and easy slaw. I cooked up a few jars of our garden green beans. I put a big old turkey breast in the crockpot and then made broth the next day.

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I (shamefully) began to realize that perhaps my worst fear in this whole thing was running out of food.

But that’s the truth, isn’t it? The worst thing that can happen is coming home from a long day, starving, and having no options for you except that dang loaf of bread staring at you. Taunting you. Then you cave in. Then you beat yourself up.

A little planning and prep work can help a lot.

Dinner Strategies

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Sometimes, I feel like a short order cook around here. Especially at lunch. One thing for my oldest two. Another (or a variation) for my youngest (because of her food allergies). We watch my niece most days, and…well…you might just say she’s a little picky. (I count about 4 things she’ll eat for me.) And then, finally, about a billion minutes after I get everyone else settled, then I eat.

Lunch is one thing. But I am not going to do that for dinner. No way. Especially with afternoon activities or errands just about every day. So at dinner time, I employ a strategy like I shared in this postFor instance, one night we had these amazing chicken legs. I made some slaw with Asian dressing, and baked potatoes for everyone else. I had a sweet potato. Doesn’t get easier than that. 

When they had veggie fried rice, I just had a heap of the veggie part (didn’t hurt that there were yummy bits of ground pork and eggs in there too). When they had nachos, I had a taco salad, sans chips.

Little substitutions. Almost no extra work. And I don’t feel like I’m missing anything.

My favorite new discoveries

Coconut milk kefir. Mmm. If you’ve never had kefir, think yummy, creamy smoothie (when you blend in some fruit) that packs a huge probiotic punch. My mom has been making kefir for her and my dad for a few weeks now. She has these awesome mutant kefir grains that keep multiplying to infinity. She kindly agreed to make some coconut milk kefir for me (since I’m off the dairy variety for now). I blend it up with some frozen strawberries and blueberries and slurp it up with breakfast or as an afternoon treat. No extra sweetener required, because the coconut milk is a little sweet and the berries take care of the rest.

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Sweet potato hash. I have to give credit yet again to nomnompaleo for this one. Shredded sweet potatoes fried in clarified butter. I added minced onion and grated in some fresh ginger. So good. With just about anything.

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I’m only a couple weeks into this thing. But, hey, I’m half-way there! It seems to be definitely worth it for me. At the end, I’ll let you know all the benefits I’ve reaped. But for now, as I sit and sip on my kefir, I’ll enjoy the journey.

And learn some new tricks in the kitchen along the way. 

 

What favorite food “discoveries” have you made on a new eating plan?


My Dear Abby

This weekend, my oldest girl turns twelve. Time is going by way too fast. And so, if you’ll permit this momma to gush a little…

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She was such a good baby. After the never ending colic of her older brother, she was a dream. Easily entertained by her toddler brother’s antics. A good sleeper. No health issues.

She was always a good helper. Even now, she’ll volunteer to help in the kitchen without asking. Chores without griping. She helps babysit her little cousin and does a million things for her spoiled sister. I often think that she has the gift of mercy and help.

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Hard working at whatever she does. Sometimes I think she’s too hard on herself.

Always creative and artistic (had to come from her dad). She’s practically taught herself to sew and crochet and knit. Abby is always working on some project. A hand pieced quilt for her American Girl doll. A homemade purse. A bracelet for a friend. The kid’s room looks like an A.C. Moore store.

A self-proclaimed book worm. I think she’d quickly coming up on 50 books, large and small, read since August of last year.

A loyal and thoughtful friend.

An infectious laugh.

A heart tender to the things of God.

She’s the kind of kid who takes it upon herself to limit her own Kindle time. To organize her room (girl has mad organization skills). To offer an apology.

And I can’t really take any credit for it. It just seems to be the way God made her. I often wonder, with all her wonderful qualities, what she’ll end up doing in life. As an adult, I think she could be one of my greatest friends.

But right now, I’d rather put the breaks on this whole growing up thing. A few more years of snuggling with her sister. Of playing dress up with her best friend. Loads more hugs for her mom and dad.

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Happy birthday our dearest Abby! You are quite a gift 🙂


Thinking About Homeschooling?–Our Story

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We’re getting to that time of year. The end is in sight for the second semester of school. Kids (and parents and teachers) are daydreaming of summer freedom and fun.

And maybe you’re starting to think a little about next school year. Maybe the word “homeschool” has even gone through your head a time or two.

And you have a million and one questions. Your child is just starting out and you’re wondering how to even get started teaching at home. Can you possibly teach him or her to read? What do you do about friends or music lessons or sports?

Or you have a student who’s been in public or private school, but something just isn’t quite right. And you’re wondering if there’s another way.

My Story

I’ve been where you are, my friend. I never had any thoughts about homeschooling when I first had kids. Then something happened. While my oldest was enrolled in a local, private preschool, I kept hearing the whisper of “homeschool.” But then I’d have another epic power struggle with a four-year-old (sad, I know…we’re much better now) and I’d throw the homeschool idea into the crazy file.

So he went to a Christian school for kindergarten. And he did great. I substitute taught for the school and had every intention of enrolling my second child there and maybe teaching full time. But the idea of homeschooling never really went away. I just intentionally shoved it to the back of my brain. I didn’t want to go there.

It turns out that God was patiently trying to bring me around. But I’m a little slow. So when that didn’t work He gave us Ella. And through her and circumstances and me FINALLY yielding my will to His, I sent in my letter of intent.

And we all lived happily every after…………well, not exactly.

Yeah, it was messy and sometimes ugly. And then there were sweet moments and satisfying days. I quickly realized that the lifestyle of homeschooling was often teaching me as much as it was them. I needed to learn to be a more consistent parent. I needed to reign in my temper. I needed to depend on God WAY more than I ever had.

Teaching was the easy part. Molding and training these sometimes stubborn little hearts while not losing my cool was the real challenge. (Looking back, I really believe that other than teaching them to read and teaching them about God, the most important lessons for beginning homeschoolers are those of following directions, working with a good attitude and persevering through frustration. If you wait to work on that while you’re in the middle of quadratic equations and cellular biology–it’s not gonna be pretty.)

And here we are, eight years later. Now I teach an eighth grader, sixth grader and 1st grader. It hasn’t been easy. There have been days (or months) that I daydreamed about sending their little fannies out with the school bus. I can’t say that I’ve gotten it all right. We’ve seen each other at some of our worst moments.

So why am I still doing it? For me, it has always boiled down to obedience. I know that this is something God has called me to do. If it wasn’t from Him, I probably would have thrown in the towel long ago. (I’m not saying that everyone is called to homeschool. This is just my story.)

That’s not the only reason, though. The good has definitely outweighed the bad. We have learned so much together. My kids are closer that they could ever be if they were apart for 7 hours a day. We have incredible discussions about history or society or God. I get to share in their victories. I get lots of hugs all day long.

We’re a team. And I love it.

I tell you all of this because I want to be upfront. There are plenty of families that have entered into homeschooling half-heartedly, or with some idyllic notions, and they’ve had their worlds rocked. Some give up because of it.

The decision about schooling is unique to every family. And sticking it out for us boiled down to three things…

  1. Commitment or calling–Why are you doing this? Are you firmly convinced of it? Because if you’re not sure, it’s so much harder to get through the tough days.
  2. Willingness to be humble–Can you admit when you’re wrong? Can you depend on God daily for what you need? Can you put aside what you would rather be doing (to explain that math problem 10 more times)?
  3. Following through–We all start out with good intentions and goals. But it’s another thing to keep that train moving for 9 months at a time, year after year. Can you keep pushing them towards maturity and understanding, little by little, day after day? This is a huge responsibility. And they’re counting on you to get them ready for the next phase of their lives.

I’m not at the finish line yet. And in another few years, maybe I’ll give you a completely different list. But these seem to be the things I come back to every year.

There’s a lot that goes into this decision. Next time, I’ll give you some resources that might help you along in the process.

If you’re a homeschooling family, what led you to the decision?


My Mothering Is a Comedy of Errors

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Yesterday, as we were driving out of our way to drop of library books (cause I had forgotten…again) I asked my daughter, “When you grow up, are you going to remember me as the mom who was constantly forgetting things…and couldn’t manage to order a leotard that fit?”

(She has a dance concert in about 2 1/2 weeks and at this moment I have ordered/returned TWO different leotards, one too big, one too small. And three different pairs of ballet shoes, just to get ONE that fit.)

Now, I could try to blame such moments on the monster cold I was recovering from. Except I ordered the first one before that hit…and let’s face it, this is not an isolated thing. Nope. If I’m brutally honest, I have to concede that I’m not nearly as together as others might think.

I really don’t care about how others perceive all that. But lately, my list of foibles and blunders keeps growing. And it’s starting to get a little discouraging, ya know?

I remember way-back-when. When my brain seemed to work better. Sometimes I have my husband tell the kids that I did indeed used to be smart. He’ll quote my GPA in college. (Not that they have much of a clue what that is, being homeschooled and all.) But that was before even one bundle of joy had arrived to evidently drain out a good measure of mental abilities and replace them with mommy brain–which I don’t think we ever fully recover from. (Or maybe that’s just me.)

I think I’ve learned to just laugh at myself.

Because it seems that the modern mom has her plate full. Whether you work outside the house or 24/7 behind those four walls. Whether you have one kid or ten. There’s just so much to keep straight. Education, doctor visits, bills, school papers and events, extra curricular classes, holidays, birthdays…and then you best be serving the highest quality organic gourmet meals in a sparkling clean kitchen…right?

Then there’s that mom who really does seem to have it altogether and can’t understand why I keep forgetting that thing I was supposed to bring her…again. Cause her brain is not swiss cheese like mine.

Let’s chalk it up to a dose of humility. (And a kick in the pants to get myself a little more organized.) A reminder to keep my to do lists a little more simple. To slow down and really think about my day.

There are those seasons during the year that are just crazier. Spring is like that for me. I love it after a long winter’s hibernation. But it’s challenging.

So for all the mom’s out there that are starting to feel like a crazy mess, for all of us who lose papers or forget deadlines or put the mail in the refrigerator…I hear ya. It’s time to not take ourselves quite so seriously, pray for grace, enlist the kids’ help, and type a billion reminders in our phones.

We may never hack it as the “perfect mom,” but I wasn’t going for that anyway. I’ll be happy with somewhat-together-mom that loves her family like crazy.

 


Keeping Your Head Above Water on the Difficult Days

There are those days…or months or seasons. You know, the kind where nothing seems to be going your way. Where no matter how many times you get back up there seems to be something right around the corner to knock you down again. Sometimes it seems like those waves keep breaking over your head with no end in sight and all you really want is a chance to take a breath.

It’s a fact of life. None of us escape difficult days. It’s all part of the Fall and how sin has messed up this whole world. I find it’s better to not be too surprised by it all. Not that I’m a pessimistic fatalist that expects trouble at every turn. But if we think we’re entitled to a life of rainbows and sunshine, we’re not living in reality.

The real measure of maturity is not whether we can skillfully avoid hardship, but in how we handle it.

Living moment by moment

When we’re in the middle of uncertain or difficult days, and we don’t want to get swallowed up by anxiety and worry, the secret is to live in the moment. Do the thing that God has put right in front of you, right now. It may do nothing to address the situation. But it can keep you from wallowing. It can be a needed distraction.

By doing so, I leave tomorrow in God’s hands and live the moment He’s given right now. No amount of fretting is going to make a dent in my problem. It’s wasted energy. Pointless.

But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day as enough trouble of it’s own.    Matthew 6:33-34

Keeping my sense of humor

Sometimes you just gotta laugh…or else you’ll cry. I can’t tell you how many times a little silliness has saved our family from letting ourselves soak in frustration, anger or despair.

If laughing is the LAST thing you want to do, enlist a friend. Schedule some goof off time. A break from your problems might be just the thing you need to see things clearly.

A cheerful heart is good medicine.   Proverbs 17:22

Remember WHO is on your side

The truth is sometimes it doesn’t really feel like God is on our side. Weak as we are, we are quick to feel abandoned and blame God when the hardships start stacking up. After all, if He really loves us…

And then we start to ask that most damaging question…why?

I hate that question. I’m not sure there is really ever an answer that’s going to be good enough for us when the suffering seems so severe. So do yourself a favor. Stop asking it. The question we should be asking isn’t why, it’s who?

Who is the source of my strength right now? Who is my help? Who is always bigger than my circumstances? Who’s understanding is way beyond mine? Who keeps me standing when I feel crushed? Who picks me up when I’m knocked down a hundred times? Who is the true source of all joy and everything I really need?

I like the answer to those questions much better.

That answer gives me hope. It resets my perspective. It reminds me of these verses…

For our light and momentary troubles [and Paul was being beaten and persecuted to near death…not what I’d call “light” troubles] are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.     2 Corinthians 4:17

In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.                      John 16:33

Once again, I write to remind myself. Lately, the days have been stacking up troubles. Not the worst road we’ve ever had to walk, by any stretch of the imagination. But still, after a while, it starts to wear you down.

(And please don’t think I’m trying to say I know all about how to handle hardship. God has to keep teaching us the same lessons over and over. We’re all in that boat, right?)

Praying for all of us, when the road is hard, that we’ll be able to lift our heads above the storm and get a glimpse of real hope. Just a peek at His love and glory.

Therein lies more than enough grace for the battle.