Thursday, December 9, 2010

Finals week

I have my anatomy final tomorrow, and I don't feel at all prepared. I've been studying like a madwoman, but I think my gray matter has reached maximum capacity. Pray for me!

Monday, November 29, 2010


Before I had children, I had a picture in my mind of what kind of mother I wanted to be. I thought long and hard about what I wanted to teach my children, and how I wanted the atmosphere of our home to feel. I knew that I wanted to raise them to be good Catholics, to be kind, to know that they were loved, and to feel that their home was a refuge. There were all kinds of little vignettes in my head about different situations, both extraordinary and mundane, that I would experience with them or provide for them. One of these was a little snippet in my imagination of my kids coming home from school to milk and hot chocolate chip cookies, fresh from the oven, just waiting on the table. Something about a mom who takes the time to make a treat, warm, fragrant, gooey & sweet, called to me.

When Adam was a toddler, we baked together. As each child followed, they learned to pull up a chair to the counter, to cream butter and sugar, to dump in the chips. My kids love to bake, especially cookies. Most especially, they love to bake chocolate chip cookies. It's a tradition that grew on its own, considering that my kids have never gotten off the school bus, plopped down a book bag, and sighed about their long day of school.

The last few weeks have seen all of us come down with a bad case of negativity. We've all been short with each other, not used the kind words that we know are there. Tonight, I had a paper to write for my psychology class. Instead of writing a paper, I decided to contribute to the mental health of everyone and whip up a batch of chocolate chip cookies.

It was a good decision. Something about stirring the sugars and vanilla, measuring the flour, breaking the eggs, something there is therapeutic. CCCs are good for the soul. (At least mine are, because frankly, mine are the best I've ever tasted.) (No, you can't have the recipe. Half the fun is figuring out what works!)

And it worked. Like magic, everyone loosened up. We all stopped taking everything so. darn. seriously. Everyone liked each other again. When Adam yelled, "TASTE TEST!" and ran for the spoons, Gracie and the other boys cheered. Smiles all around. We each had a spoonful of batter. We licked our spoons clean. And I put a batch in the oven, anticipating the homey fragrance that would seal the deal, that would make the good mood stick, that would put us back on track.

Well, hello, Beautiful.

And that is the sight of happy kids. Never underestimate the power of chocolate to make everything better.

Friday, November 26, 2010

The Lovely Bones

If you're a vegetarian, you'll want to skip this post.

It was a good Thanksgiving. As one of my Facebook friends said, the dessert to main dish ratio was just right. (We had 8 desserts for 15 people.)

Yes, I stocked up on turkeys when they were on sale for 57 cents a pound. Not as good as last year's 44 cents a pound, but I'll take it.

Now that the feast is over, I have picked the bones clean. Literally. After the feast was done yesterday afternoon, I took the turkey carcass (isn't that just a lovely word, carcass? "What are you eating, dear?" "Carcass! It's delicious!") and stuffed half of it into the crock pot with some unpeeled carrots, unpeeled but halved onions, and some celery stalks. It made a lovely broth that will flavor rice and help with casseroles in the coming month. This morning, I took the second half of the carcass (again! That word!) and repeated yesterday's crock pot adventure. For tonight's dinner, we'll have turkey noodle soup, made from the bone broth/stock I made today. YUMMO!

For those of you who are stock-illiterate, let me break down the process:
1. Strip every piece of usable meat from the bones of your leftover turkey.
2. Put said bones in a big stockpot or crock pot, set on low. (If you had a big turkey like we did, you may have to do 2 batches.)
3. Wash some celery and carrots, chop 'em in halves or thirds, and throw them in. Chop a couple of smallish or just one large-ish onion in half, throw it in. (Don't worry about peeling. Really.) Pour in water to cover.
4. Let simmer for a few hours. At least 3, but 6 is better.
5. Put a nice big bowl in your sink with a sieve (or colander lined with cheesecloth) on top. Pour the pot's contents into the bowl, letting the sieve filter out all the solids.
6. Allow your stock to cool. Taste it - you'll need salt! Don't be shy. Like Ina Garten says, "The difference between dishwater and good stock is salt!"
7. Cover and refrigerate. In a few hours (or the next morning) skim off the fat. Some people like to cook with turkey fat. I sometimes give it to the dog on her food. It's too greasy for me, and I'm not afraid of fat!
8. Using a ladle, portion the broth into Ball canning jars and store it in the freezer, with the date on the lid. (I put my jars in the sink while I ladle. Less mess.) Leave an inch/an inch and a half headspace to account for expansion during freezing.

Simple & frugal. All those trace minerals from the turkey bones are in the broth. Enjoy!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Wordless Wednesday

At the Children's Museum:

Friday, November 12, 2010

What they don't get

Please forgive my lack of pictures for this post. I'm writing on the PC laptop, and my Mac has the photo library.

This evening, I had a fun phone call with my mother-in-law. Our conversations are usually peppered with funny jokes and sarcastic comments, stories about the kids and embarrassing things that have happened to us during the week. We share news and stories, laughs and acerbic observations. During the conversation, she shared the comments that several people made to her when she told them that we were expecting, you know, again. I have a pretty thick skin when it comes to peoples' opinions about my life. More often than not, I roll my eyes and mentally sigh about what people fail to grasp about my motives and thought processes. Homeschooling, extending breastfeeding, cosleeping, keeping my boys intact, living a thrifty life, and not using artificial birth control. Those things are puzzling to so many people. When they find out any of those things, I often get, "Oh! I could never do that!" Okay, fine. You're missing out, but do what you want.

But the comments that always leave me scratching my head are the ones about having children. They just don't make sense to me. I really, really don't get what people are getting at.

"They're doing that AGAIN?"

"They're having ANOTHER one?"

"This is FIVE kids? How do they afford that?"

"I just couldn't do it. I don't have the patience."

"Oh, I was so glad to stop breastfeeding... stop carrying a diaper bag... go on a real vacation... send my kids to school... couldn't wait for them to move out..."

Really? I don't get it. How do any of those things - any of those things - compare with having another person in your family? How? Yes, pregnancy is hard. I don't like being pregnant. I don't like the physical limitations it puts on me. I'm vain, embarrassingly so, about my weight. I hate being uncomfortable. But it's what? 10 months long? (Yes, 4 weeks per month makes a 40 week pregnancy = 10 months. Don't get me started on THAT.) Ten short months, compared to a lifetime of having another person in your family. I. Don't. Get. It.

Yes, kids can be expensive. But really and truly, kids don't require much. Parents who indulge every whim do their children a disservice - wanting is a good thing. (I'm not talking about necessities here. Food, clothes, shelter, a stable environment, love - those are needs.) Wanting teaches our kids patience (and who couldn't use more of that?) That's a good thing. My kids have wants, plenty of them. Their needs are met and then some, and many of their wants, too. But who could compare spoiling your child with things to having a brother or sister? How many adults say, "Gosh, I wish my parents wouldn't have had my sister Sally. Then I would have been able to have a Barbie Dream House at Christmas." Huh?

And let's not forget the adult wants: vacations, sending our other kids to college (yes, that's a want), having adult cars and adult houses (you know - Southern Living Catalog, no sign that anyone lives there!), sleeping in, whole days off - all that stuff. But you know what?

It's not about ME, but about US. It's not about this laundry list of things that might be nice to have. It's about love. Pure and simple. How can I look at any one of my children and think, "Gosh, if I didn't have him, we would have been able to take everyone on vacation to Disney last Christmas." Because isn't that the thought process we're following here? That if we have more money and more time to ourselves, we will somehow fill up this well inside ourselves, and be perpetually happy?

As if happiness can be bought with money.
As if money could compare with love.

These children are my investment. They are my happiness. I can't imagine my life without any one of them. When Hubby & I were discerning if it was time to expand our family again (oh, there's a Catholic rabbit trail about being open to life...) the thought that brought us both up short was, "Think about the children we have. Wouldn't you do anything, anything, to have that person in your life?" How can I say no to that? How can I close that door, and actually mean that I would rather have a bigger house/smaller car/more presents at Christmas/nicer vacation/smaller purse instead of a child? How do we come to that place? Tell me, because it's a place I never want to see!

Looking at my children when they sleep, little rosebud lips and flushed cheeks; watching them play together and look out for one another; seeing silly faces at the breakfast table; listening to whispered conversations between brothers after lights out; smelling the sweet smell of a new baby; being squished by bodies on the couch when we read books; how can I give up any of that for a king's ransom in new clothes, pretty shoes and purses, European vacations, afternoons sipping lattes and reading novels?

We cannot fulfill ourselves with things, spending time and money on ourselves, pursuing our own selfish whims constantly. It is only through loving others that we find happiness. I am selfish in this: I want to fill my cup to the brim. I want as much love as I can squeeze into this family. If the cost is mountains of laundry and diapers and sippy cups and Legos, years of potty training and diaper bags, the stretching of my patience and the doubting of my sanity - bring it on! What a small pittance to pay for such a life of love.

My children love the expectation of a new baby. They understand that this is a gift. There is never an impatient, "Again, Mom?" It's always a very wide-eyed, "Really? Cool!" I am so very, very lucky, so incredibly blessed. Thank You, God, for giving me a husband who understands this wonderful mess of children. Thank You, God, for making me able to have children. Thank You so much for sticky faces and dirty socks and gum in my dryer and dishes to wash. Thank You for letting me be a mother, again!

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Pumpkin Carving

"Daaad! Joey stuck his hand all the way down there and lost the spoon!"

All hands on deck!

"You wanna touch the pumpkin seeds?"

All done!

The Decline of Western Civilization (or, The Lost Art of Bedmaking)

I know it won't come as a surprise to anyone who knows me well, but I like things a certain way. There are multiple tasks, procedures, and methods of which I am absolutely certain that the world would come to a screeching end if there were no one on Earth to do them properly. Folding towels, hanging clothes, and making beds are my top 3.

I cringe when I hear a wife/mother say with a giggle, "Oh, I am a terrible housekeeper. I just can't keep up, so we live with the disorder and chaos!" Would we find it so funny if she were talking about a paying job? As if any profession that paid money could be as pivotal as being a SAHM. Children need order. Our husbands deserve a tidy, well-ordered home. I know that I function better when the house is picked-up. We bless ourselves and our families when we learn how to do our job properly. It isn't helpful to anyone when there are no matching socks in the drawer, or the beds are so untidy and dirty that they're not a comfort at the end of the day. I wholeheartedly believe that keeping house is pivotal to being civilized. It's as necessary as table manners and Great Books.

That brings me to the heart of my post - How To Make a Bed Properly. This is the way civilized people do it. ; )

First, we start with a fitted sheet, with the elastic snug UNDER all four corners, and all four sides pulled down, under the four sides of the mattress.

Next, we put on the flat sheet. The deepest hem goes at the head of the bed. The sides of the sheet that are hanging down on each side of the mattress are equal in length - no lopsided sheets! (A little trick for that: if, when you store your sheets, your first fold is lengthways in half, you'll have a fold-line right down the middle of the flat sheet to guide you when you put your sheets on the bed.) You'll notice that the print on the flat sheet faces the mattress, NOT the ceiling! There's a good reason for that!

Because when you fold your top sheet down over your blankets/comforter/quilt, or you like to turn down the bed to warm the sheets before getting into bed, the attractive side is visible. Also, this is usually the side on which the nap is on a flannel sheet. You'll be warmer this way.

Now that we have the head of the bed tidy, let's look at the foot of the bed. (You've smoothed out all the wrinkles in your sheet, right? Everything's pretty?) At the foot of the bed, you will tuck in your sheet. I don't care if you like to put your feet out at the end of the bed! We are civilized human beings! We tuck in the sheet at the bottom! Stick your feet out the side, if you must, but keep that sheet tucked. We are not bachelors living in squalor. We are the mistresses of households! We are the keepers of civilization!

Now, you'll notice in the picture below, the corner isn't exactly perfect. We can fix that, easy-peasy. I've always called it a hospital corner, the fold I'm about to show you. You call it whatever you like, as long as you do it.

From the foot of the bed, eyeball about a foot or so toward the head of the bed. Grasp the bottom of the sheet there, and ...

flip it up to the top of the bed. Tuck in whatever still hangs below the bottom of the mattress. (Pay no attention to all the bedding on the floor. It was wash-day for linens, and it all ended up in the laundry. I had to take pictures before I was interrupted, so I didn't have time to make things pretty for my pictures. Such is life.)

Now, flip that bit of sheet back down, smooth your sheet again, and do the other corner.

I'm guessing that you don't need me to show you how to put on your top blankets. Just pull the quilt up to right below the top hem of the flat sheet, with both sides of the quilt or blanket hanging down equally on each side of the bed. Tuck in middle-layer blankets, hospital corners and all. No need to tuck in the bottom of a quilt, as it will pull the stitches of the quilt. Besides, we want to see all of the quilt. It's made to be enjoyed for its beauty. (Don't tuck comforters, either, unless you like bending your mattress and sleeping with your feet elevated.) At the head of the bed, fold that deep hem of the top sheet over the edge of the quilt at the head of your bed. It protects the edge of the quilt, and lets you show off your pretty sheets. (And since you put them on the right way, we can see the print, if there is one!) Fluff your pillows, pile them on, and you're done.

A word on daily bed making: I firmly believe in the need to let the bed "air" before making the bed for the day. Some people feel just as firmly that a bed should be made as soon as it's vacant. I like to, weather permitting, open the windows in the bedroom, leaving the bed unmade, while I feed the hordes and take my shower. When I come back to my bedroom (about an hour after I wake), I make the bed. That means I do ONE LAYER AT A TIME. Pull up the sheet, then the blanket, then the quilt. We do not do all the layers at the same time - blankets and sheets shift overnight. Husbands steal bedding and untuck sheets! (True. I've seen it.) It takes me about 3 minutes to make my bed every morning. But I enjoy getting into a made bed at night - smooth, unwrinkled sheets, with flat, pretty blankets. If I just pulled all the covers up together, in about 2 days I'd have a mess that would need more than 3 minutes of attention. If my sons (ages 10, 7, and 5) can make a bed properly, (and they can, because I taught them to) so can you!

There you are. My bed-making manifesto. I feel so much better having gotten that off my chest.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

The apple orchard

It's autumn. FINALLY! Anyone who suffered through this hot, humid-yet-rainless 2010 Midwest summer is rejoicing. To celebrate, Hubby took the kids to our favorite orchard to pick apples. I love picking apples. Love smelling apples. Love baking with apples. I love, love fresh apples.

But there were no apples to pick. BOO, HISS! Apparently, the apple harvest was early this year because of the unusually hot weather. Hubby did bring home a bag of apples from the orchard, but I'm sure they'd been refrigerated a while. They weren't fresh from the tree. But that's okay. The kids still got to wander around the corn maze...

No, that's not an apple. That's corn. THE crop of the Midwest. (Is Adam doing the chicken dance in the background?)

The kids and hubby drowned their sorrows in cider slushies. I was jealous. I stayed home, slaving over my anatomy book, and they didn't even bring me home a slushie! (To be fair, it probably would have melted before they got home.)

They'll need a bigger sign, next year! : )

What I did with my summer vacation

Hosted a visitor in our backyard tree.

Hung onions from the garden to dry on the rafters of the back porch. I won't be growing onions again. Ugh.

Dissected a sheep's brain for summer school.

Ate lots of sweet corn.

Celebrated the Fourth of July.

So much to say, so much to say, so much to say

I know I've been gone a while. Sorry. Having four kids, being pregnant, and trying to get into nursing school keeps me hoppin'!

Wait, didn't I bring everyone up to speed? Lemme start again:

1. I've gone back to school. Since a BS in Education won't get me anywhere, I'm working toward an ASN. Hopefully, I'll graduate in May of 2013, pass my NCLEX and become an RN. Pray for me.

Okay, yeah, I know I said a few posts back that one cannot work 40 hours a week and still run a household and parent effectively. I still stand by that, 100%. So Hubby or I will be part-time. (Hopefully, it'll be me. We'll see.) My decision to go back to school was based on a lot of factors. Can we make it on one income? Yes. Do I want to continue to juggle as we have been, since the recession hit? No. We're doing just fine, but I need a little more security, a little more certainty. One of us needs to have a recession-proof job. And one of us needs to work while the other goes to school. It just makes sense that the person going back to school would be me - Hubby has a job (while I would have to look for one, and being with child doesn't exactly endear one to potential employers), and since I have one degree already, my getting a second degree is faster than Hubby going back and starting from scratch.

So, why nursing? I wanted a worthwhile job, one that is more than punching a time-clock. I want to serve. (Coming from an education background, I felt a strong need to contribute.) I want job security for my family. I want a job that makes me think. Nursing offers me all that. It's a technical field, I'll constantly be challenged, be learning, be thinking. It's not a job in which I can rest on my laurels. I need that constant mental stimulus. Nursing is obvious.

2. I'm pregnant with #5. And if I hear one more person ask, "You mean, ON PURPOSE?!" I think I just may scream. Good heavens, people - I have four children already! I know how this happens! (What is it Janet Smith says? "If you don't want to go to New York, don't get on the train!") What ever happened to "Congratulations!" I think the assumption is, since Hubby lost his job in 2008, we are somehow destitute. Not the case, thanks. He's making just about what he was then. We have insurance. Anyone notice that we're frugal? We don't throw money around. It's wasteful. So thanks for your concern, but we're doing just fine. Yes, we live in a 3 bedroom with soon-to-be five children. Babies don't take up much room, I've noticed. We have plans to move, but not until I'm out of school (either by flunking out - KIDDING! - or by graduating.) So the problem will be solved in a couple of years. I like my very small house payment. I know only one other family that pays three digits, besides us. It helps us live below our means.

Well, that sounded rather rant-y, for an update. I'll be back as time allows. Hopefully next time I'll have pictures!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Friday, July 16, 2010

Cheapo homeschool solutions

As any homeschooling mom will tell you, cheap solutions are often the best solutions. (Tell that to some of my teacher friends. The lists parents get at back to school time make my frugal hair curl! But that's a soapbox for another time.)

First up is the way we track our subjects every day. We had the problem that halfway (or less) through a day's lessons, the boys would ask me how much work they had left to do. My response would either be a patient litany of how much we still had to accomplish, or (more often) the response, "We have left what we have left." I had to come up with a better solution. I thought about making a way to keep track during the morning of what had been done and what still remained. I brainstormed magnets for the fridge that could be moved from one side to the other, a white-board that could be checked off, a list on the chalkboard that could be erased... but those all required me to either purchase something or do some kind of set up every day. I wasn't willing to add another task, no matter how small, to our day.

Then I came up with this solution:

Simple and cheap. They're just index cards, with the subjects of the day listed, one on each card. Each boy has his own color (which goes along with me color-coding my kids, but that's for another post) so it's clear who has done what. They each have a pile at the beginning of the morning, and as they complete subjects, they put the corresponding card away. When they have no more cards left, they have no more work! (It's a great time-saver for me, too. I don't have to keep a running tally in my head of what we have & haven't done.) I did get fancy-shmancy prepping for this year, since I "laminated" them between two sheets of clear contact paper for durability.

I can't remember where I picked up my next idea - it was a homeschooling blog. If you know where, let me know. I'd like to give this woman some credit! (Edited to add: Lindsay found it for me! This idea is from Kimberlee at Pondered in My Heart. Thanks, Lindsay!)

The idea was this: use milk jug lids for spelling practice! Write a letter on each lid, and let the kids practice spelling by switching the lids around. This is PERFECT for my boys, who avoid writing like it's the Black Death.

I store my lids in an old shoebox in the homeschool cabinet. I've since refined my lids so that all the vowels are blue, and all the consonants are orange.

If you look closely at the picture, you can see piles of subject cards, too. And a spoon. Hmm. So there you go! Cheap and cheerful!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Just like I've been sayin'!

This article articulates what I, as a mother of boys, see every day. It's one of the reasons we chose to homeschool. I remember talking about this very phenomenon in one of my Methods classes in college: we talked about how boys in elementary school are dis-served, because schools are set up in a way that is better for (quieter, less active, less impulsive) girls.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Because I promised - here's my storage solution

Because I promised more than a month ago, and then FORGOT! (gasp!) I am now posting these pictures of our storage solution for the boys' room.

Here is where we started. One little bookcase, not nearly big enough to hold all of their books. There were also three small baskets that went on the middle shelf between the book shelves, to hold toys. In addition, there was a shelf on the wall above the bookcase, which we used to display trophies. We took it down when we painted. Sorry that you don't get to see it, but you're really not missing much.

One day at Target, I spotted a little storage unit, made of cubicles. It looked something like this. I thought, "Oh, yeah, right. I need about 20 of those for my kids' stuff." And then it dawned on me, "I need 20 of those for my kids stuff!" I went to Hubby with my idea. He told me that those cubes would be a snap to build, and so we (*cough* he) worked out dimensions, priced the wood and materials (screws, paint, and sandpaper), and built them!

We purchased some fabric bins from Target, because I knew I'd need someplace for the boys to corral their action figures, toy cars, and miscellaneous gear. Hubby measured the dimensions of the fabric bins, getting an idea of how big the cubes should be. He also had the stroke of genius to make the lower 1/3 of the cube wall less enclosed, thus getting the clothes hamper, Lego bin, and Plan Toys garage sorted away, too.

So there you have it! Doesn't it look great? You'll notice in the lower right, he built that shelf up off the floor just a bit, to allow for air flow from the vent. And it works perfectly. Now the boys have so much more room to play, since the new beds & storage unit are in. Perfect!

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Two unrelated thoughts

Adam has decided that he doesn't want to be an altar server any more. My poor Catholic mama heart is breaking. Doesn't he look just perfect in his cassock and surplice? After he fainted at the altar on Christmas Day (yes, really), he's been afraid to serve. So I got one last picture to remember his serving days. He's not completely off the hook, though. I told him that he still has to serve for family weddings, funerals, and homeschool Masses.

I'm going to miss seeing him in his vestments. (Are they vestments, when he's just an altar server?)

Now, for the unrelated bit. I don't know why this didn't occur to me earlier! Hubby & I like our morning (decaf) coffee, as I've said before. However, we often have leftover coffee. Being a coffee snob (who is so grateful to have an almost sister-in-law who works for Starbucks), I don't like it reheated. When in North Carolina this past weekend, I watched my friends reheat their coffee from the previous day's brewing and shuddered at the thought! I've debated pouring leftover java on the plants, but I don't want to harm them with too much nitrogen. I use the grounds in our compost, after having reused them at least once. But what to do with the leftover joe?

Put it in ice cube trays, and save it for iced coffee!

Why didn't I think of that sooner?! I freeze all kinds of things in ice cube trays - chicken broth, tomato paste (I can never use a full can, and hate to throw any away), homemade baby food; why not coffee?

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

North Carolina

Over Memorial Day weekend, the kids and I, sans Hubby, visited with some friends in North Carolina. Long drive, but well worth it. It was so nice to visit with our friends who we hadn't seen in nearly a year.

One of the fun activities they planned for us was a visit to Lazy 5 Ranch. It's a drive-through petting zoo with bison, giraffes, long-horn steer, zebras, emus and ostriches, llamas, pigs, water buffalo... well, you get the idea. Visitors can purchase buckets of food to feed the animals along the way.

Here is a picture of our standoff with a long-horn. This is right before he clunked the hood of my van with his horns, because he had to reach down to scratch his leg. I still haven't checked to see if I have a dent in my hood.

Here is Joey, feeding a llama. We were lucky - in the car ahead of us, our friends' son was spit upon by the llama they fed. Nothing better than llama spit, especially right after said llama has eaten. They rolled up the windows and refused to feed the llamas after that. LOL!

Here is Adam stretching out of the sunroof to feed a giraffe.

And Luke, taking his turn with the giraffe.

This last picture shows a bison eating from our friends' van. Can you see how HUGE the bison is? I'm sure that if I stood next to it, it would be taller than me. Imagine facing that as you're sitting on a horse, armed with nothing more than a bow and arrow! The boys said that the bison's tongue was very long, and multi-colored. Now there's something you don't see every day!