Monday, December 15, 2014

Stuff. Grrrr....

When I was a little girl I dreamed of being a mommy.  I envisioned cradling tiny babies, putting them down for naps, feeding them in a high chair, changing diapers, and even nursing them (I had four younger siblings who ate that way- not all at once, of course).

But never did I imagine all the time I would spend managing STUFF.  It is (as of right now) my very least favorite part of managing a household.  I don't mind cleaning very much (when I have the time to get it done) and I don't mind doing laundry.  I wax and wane excitement regarding cooking these days and don't really mind paying the bills.  What I DO mind is all the time, brain space and energy that goes into dealing with stuff.

Now granted, I am thankful for the stuff.  I am not complaining about the *actual* stuff.  The stuff we have is stuff we need and are blessed to have in our possession.


When you live in an old farmhouse with very few closets, managing stuff is hard.

When your attic's access is just wide enough for your husband's hips to fit through (forget about bins, Christmas trees, etc.), managing stuff is hard.

When you are over-the-moon fortunate to get beautiful hand-me-downs to clothe your children but have to pile bins of clothes in your bedroom, managing stuff is hard.

When you homeschool and need to save each year's books for the children who will grow into them so you don't have to sell and repurchase books every year, managing stuff is hard.

When your children's ages range from one to just shy of twelve, some toys and books will naturally accumulate for said ages (and in between) making it hard to manage all the stuff.

When you delight in organization, tidy rooms and open spaces, managing an overabundance of stuff is hard.

When your "attic" is an old, detached-from-the-house smokehouse that is mostly sound but not sound enough to trust storing said clothes and books, managing stuff is hard.

When the only exercise you get some days is rearranging and lugging around bins and boxes, managing stuff is hard (even though the exercise is good).

I don't wish this stuff away. I am doing my best to keep us organized.  Yes, an addition would be nice as we seem to be bursting at the seams but it's not in the cards right now.

So I live with the stuff.  I walk past and around the stuff.  I sneer at the stuff and try to will it invisible.  I resent how it makes our spaces look cluttered and hope no one thinks me a budding hoarder.  I am constantly trying to think up ways to house it more discretely but the cold, hard truth is that as long as I have a family and means to clothe, entertain, and school them, I will have stuff.

So, STUFF, BRING IT ON!  I'm armed with bins and I'm not afraid to use them.  Like it or not, I will kick your butt into organized submission.

The end.

Merry Christmas!!

Jane Pin It

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Our Favorite Christmas Treats

Originally posted November 20, 2013.

Just because we're waiting until the week before Christmas to bake, doesn't mean you are.  You all are much more disciplined about not sneaking them from the freezer or gobbling up half a dozen while they're still warm, right?  Not that there's anything wrong with that.  Of course.

In the event you're already baking or will be baking soon, I wanted to offer up our favorites.  If you've been around here for awhile, you'll see that our list hasn't changed much.  That's because these are the cream of the crop, in my opinion, and improving on the list would be tough.  That said, I'd love to hear what your favorite Christmas cookie is.  Would you tell me?  Please, please, please?

Almost all of these recipes below can also be found here.

First off- Lemon Bars. Oh, how I love them.  My infatuation began in our college cafeteria where I ate them for the first time.  Imagine how I now enjoy these in contrast with the albeit tasty cafeteria version (they actually baked them there, I believe).

Next, we have my mother-in-law's Caramel Popcorn.  Hers is the best I've ever had- well-coated, not grainy, just melt-in-your-mouth heavenly.

These Chewy Chocolate Gingerbread Cookies are my favorite cookie in the world and I'm not exaggerating.  I could eat them every day at every meal.  Boldly spiced and chocolaty, they are divine.

Ahhhh.  These are my mother's Chocolate Mint Brownies.  You can add green food coloring to the mint layer to make them more festive, but I like leaving them pure white so your unsuspecting company is wowed by the flavor punch.

Such a classic- Peanut Blossoms.  These were my favorite growing up.  I'd always eat the peanut butter cookie around the kiss, saving the chocolate for my last bite.  Hmm.  Come to think of it, that's exactly what I still do:-).

This Gingerbread Cookie recipe came from my mom.  She use to pipe white icing on her gingerbread men, giving them faces and little pants, shirts and shoes.  Several years ago, I decided to decorate them by dipping them in melted chocolate and then let the kids decorate with sprinkles.  As you may have noticed above, I love the chocolate-gingerbread combination, so these are my second favorite cookie.  And I can still give the illusion of little pants, shoes and hats.

Do you know about Chocolate Peppermint Bark Cookies?  Well, I am happy to introduce you.  The bark can totally stand alone as a treat (or sweet gift wrapped in a cellophane bag), but add them to chocolate cookies?  Be still my beating heart.

In the back of Beth Morre's Bible study book on Esther comes this recipe for Haman's Ears.  Soft, sweet cookie is wrapped around your choice of filling- we use apple butter and different flavors of jam.  Not only are they delicious, but they remind our family of the way God uses ordinary people to do extraordinary things.

Lastly, Homemade Marshmallows.  If you've never tried these, you really must.  They are surprising easy to make and taste so much better than the store bought variety.  And!  Your kids will love dropping one big giant marshmallow into their hot chocolate instead of those of itty-bitty ones.

Happy baking, loves!
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Monday, December 8, 2014

Investing in Us

It had been quite awhile since Jamey and I had gone out by ourselves- even for just a couple hours. Having a foster child changed my feelings about going out and our ability to get away.  First of all, I've been surprised at how (insanely?) protective I am of this little person.  It was fierce from the very beginning.  While I'm very protective of my own children, of course, I found myself feeling it at a different level with him. Even if it was a governmental agency and a stranger forced into the situation- others were entrusting us with another's child.  Talk about feeling like a mama bear.

Of course I was concerned for his physical safety.  I didn't trust to leave him with anyone but Jamey for the first little while. And I even reminded Jamey (repeatedly-you can ask him) that we needed to be even more deliberate about proper supervision to ensure his complete safety.  I know stumbles and scrapes happen, but I was paranoid worried about trip-to-the-ER accidents.  At the same time, I was just as protective of his little spirit- I didn't want him passed around.  He'd had enough change in his little life.  I wanted him to know that I would be there for him- I was not going away.

At least not for awhile.

But life goes on and from time to time there have been occasions when I've needed someone else to watch him.  Two or three times we've need a babysitter so Jamey and I could complete our yearly foster care training hours.  We tried to tell each other that these were dates.  While there were no children to tend to, we were only able to talk in the car to and from the agency.  It was better than nothing but wasn't what we needed.

And then there's the whole issue of who can watch him.  When a child is in foster care, you can't just call your regular teenage babysitter.  Ours are extremely responsible but we understand completely why there are rules in place.  Not only does the sitter need to be an adult but they need to fill out paperwork, have it notarized and undergo a background check which can take six weeks for approval. I was quick to get that ball rolling when he first arrived but six weeks is still quite awhile.

Thankfully, one of our friends is already a foster mom so they approved her quickly.  I also asked my sister and a close friend/neighbor to round out my approved babysitter posse.  The rules for using your approved sitters are different, too.  We're only to use them for a couple hours at a time- for doctor's appointments, dinner out, etc.  If we need longer care, we call the agency and they ask another foster family to provide respite.

So, he's been with us now for almost six months.  A few weeks ago Jamey called one of our dear, approved sitters and we went out on a date.  We dressed up, had meaningful (uninterrupted) conversation, repeatedly had to convince ourselves that it was okay that we chose such an expensive place since we never go out, and lingered over the most delicious meal.

I didn't realize how much I needed that. More than just about anything, keeping connected with your spouse during these years of child-rearing is so very important.  It seems silly but when so much of my focus is on children, I need to be reminded that I am in a relationship with a man and that relationship really is at the core of my earthly life and all my other relationships.  I needed to be reminded that Jamey chose me.  And still chooses me every day.  I needed to be reminded that when these children are grown and gone, we'll still have each other.  We need to invest in us.

So while it may be a little while until we venture out alone again, our recent date will carry me a ways.  This life, as challenging and tiring as it may be is worth the craziness, the diapers and occasional tears over school work because the people in my house deserve the best I can give them. Most of the time that means being here for their many needs but sometimes it means grounding myself by getting away with my partner in this amazing life.

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Wednesday, December 3, 2014

I Needed This Today...

...and maybe you do, too.

"THERE IS NO FLAW IN YOU. - Song of Solomon 4:7

Having pronounced His Church positively full of beauty, our Lord confirms His praise by a precious negative: "There is no flaw in you."  As if the thought occurred to the Bridegroom that the complaining world would insinuate that He had only highlighted her good parts and had purposely not mentioned those features that were deformed or defiled, in summary He declares her universally and entirely beautiful and utterly devoid of flaws.  A spot can be easily removed and is the very least thing that can disfigure beauty, but even from this little blemish the believer is delivered in his Lord's sight.  If he had said there is no hideous scar, no horrible deformity, no deadly ulcer, we might even then have marveled; but when He testifies that she is free from the slightest flaw, all these other forms of defilement are included, and the depth of wonder is increased.  If He had simply promised to remove all flaws later on, we would still have eternal reason for joy; but when He speaks of it as already done, it fills us with a deep sense of satisfaction and delight.  My soul, here is spiritual food for you; digest it properly, and be satisfied with the royal provision.

Christ Jesus has no quarrel with His spouse.  She often wanders from Him and grieves His Holy Spirit, but He does not allow her faults to affect His love.  He sometimes rebukes, but it is always in a tender manner, with the kindest of intentions; It is "my love" even then.  There is no remembrance of our follies.  He does not cherish ill thoughts of us, but He pardons and loves equally after the offense as before it.  If Jesus were as mindful of injuries as we are, how could He commune with us?  Too often a believer will put himself out of humor with the Lord for some slight turn in providence, but our precious Husband knows our silly hearts too well to take any offense at our ill manners."

~ December 3, Morning Prayer from Morning and Evening by Charles H. Spurgeon
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Monday, December 1, 2014

In the School Room

In the past month or so a friend of mine has been posting photographs and breaking them down.  I thought I'd apply the same idea to a picture I took a couple weeks ago. I love it because it truly is a snap shot into what our life is like at this moment in time.

~ Despite the occasional lament during actual school, as soon as they're given free time, they play school.  Sam is taking turns teaching Miriam (in her creative learning stance) and Sadie.
~ laundry in the basket on the couch waiting to be folded
~ Handwriting pages, maps, Bible memory verses, school calendar, spelling rule reminders and framed art from this summer's painting fun (we used this book) adorn the walls.
~ Strewn board books, an Indestructible, colander, Hess car, soccer ball, and peek-a-boo blocks show what baby was playing with.
~ School table covered in school books waiting to be put away on the shelves to the right.
~ Open toy cabinets (the doors came off years ago) and two locked craft/toy rotation cabinets sit under the school shelves.  I *so* advocate locking a cabinet or two.
~ Basket on school shelf holds diapers, changing pad, wipes and diaper cream because who wants to traipse upstairs every time there's a dirty diaper?
~ ABC cards from My Father's World because we have a kindergartener in the house
~ pillow on the floor because that's where pillows belong, right?
~ CD player on the table for listening to Bible memory verse and Geography songs
~ Sadie holding the baby like I often do during school

This is so characteristic of life right now- a semi-organized whirlwind of togetherness- children, school and never-ending laundry.  
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Tuesday, November 25, 2014


I give you thanks, O Lord, with my whole heart;
    before the gods I sing your praise;

I bow down toward your holy temple
    and give thanks to your name 
for your steadfast love and your faithfulness;
    for you have exalted your name and your word
    above everything.
On the day I called, you answered me,
    you increased my strength of soul.
All the kings of the earth shall praise you, O Lord,

    for they have heard the words of your mouth.
They shall sing of the ways of the Lord, for 
great is the glory of the Lord.
For though the Lord is high, he regards the lowly;
    but the haughty he perceives from far away.
Though I walk in the midst of trouble,

    you preserve me against the wrath of my enemies;
you stretch out your hand,
    and your right hand delivers me.
The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me;
    your steadfast love, O Lord, endures forever.
    Do not forsake the work of your hands.

Psalm 138:1-8, NRSV
(italics mine)

Happy Thanksgiving, Friends.  
I am give thanks for you.

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Friday, November 14, 2014

The Three-Month Progression

In my mind, the month of September signifies school in full swing.  Then comes the three month progression that builds slowly and peaks at the end of December. October is relatively calm. The garden is mostly done.  Other than apples (early October for us), everything has been put up. The days are still mild. Pressures are low. We start getting cozy with fires and shorter days.

roasting and pureeing butternut squash

Then comes November.  My thoughts turn to Thanksgiving and Christmas.  The calendar starts filling up with special activities and gatherings.  Since garden work has been abandoned (there's always work that can be done if we want to), we turn our attention to other projects.

the sad, sad state of our garden

Jamey and Sam are renovating the kids' playhouse (an old hog shed)- complete with an actual floor (versus dirt) and electricity.

We look forward to Thanksgiving time with family.  I start a mental list of all the special things I hope to do in December.  We're desperately needing a break from school but we push forward.  We'll take a week off for Thanksgiving.

The faces of our barns are repaired and protected.  As you can see above, the sides of the larger barn and the roofs are in need of paint/repair (a good summer project).

This progression toward Christmas is a mixed bag for me.  In my mind it's like a long climb up a steep mountain.  It makes me tired but at the same time it's invigorating.  I get the occasional blister (a little stress) or major leg cramp (a mini breakdown) but regular breaks and forcing myself to slow down and enjoy the view as I go helps.  Approaching the peak, I get giddy and forge ahead despite my exhaustion.  My eyes are on the prize.  At the top, I am in awe.  The vista is more than I could have imagined and way more than I deserve. Pin It

Monday, November 10, 2014

Free Cookbook Deal for Christmas Giving

It's that time of year again!  We're keeping our eyes peeled for gifts for the special people in our lives OR we're trying to think of things to add to our own Christmas list for loved ones who want ideas from us.  Well, I hope that I can help.  Not only that, I want to give some gifts away!  So....

From now until December 15th, every 5th purchase of one of my cookbooks will be free.  In other words, if you order a cookbook and it happens to fall on a multiple of 5, you will be charged for the cookbook and shipping but! within the next day, I will reimburse you the cost of the cookbook (you will still pay shipping and tax, if it applies)

The cookbook is spiral bound with a clear plastic cover.  Go here and scroll down the page to read more details as well as reviews.

If you happen to order two cookbooks and one of them falls on a multiple of 5, you will get one of the two for free.  If you order five cookbooks, you'll be guaranteed to get one free, etc. This applies to the coil-bound cookbook version only (not the e-version).

Also, just so you know, I am going to start the free giving at a random number between 1 and 5 which means that the first, second, third or fourth order that comes in will be the first free one.  I will go with every 5th from there. Click here to order yours.

Blessings, friends. I hope you have a wonderful week!
Jane Pin It

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Need New Shoes? Make 'em.

At first it didn't occur to me to post about this but after mentioning them to some friends, they insisted I do so.

I think I mentioned before that Jamey is a runner.  He hasn't raced in a few years but still feels best when he runs regularly.  He's a long distance runner- preferring ultra-marathons over shorter distances that focus on speed.  This is why he recently picked up the book Born to Run.  The book highlights the Tarahumara, an indigineous Mexican tribe who have become well known for their physical endurance- specifically in long distance running.  In recent years the book has inspired interest in running barefoot or with minimal footwear.  The idea is that modern running shoes coddle our feet and cause a running form that makes us more prone to injuries. The book inspired him to try a different type of minimalist running shoe called 'huaraches.'  He was particularly interested in trying them because he could make them himself.  And, you know, we like to save money.

Not only has he made himself a pair (and has been running and doing yard work in them) but he also made pairs for all three of our kids.  On warmer days, the kids prefer to slip these on (they don't need tying each time) to go out and play. Jamey is impressed with how comfortable they are and how well they stay on his feet.  I have fussy feet that crave all kinds of support so I haven't accepted his offer to make a pair for me.  He thinks my fussy (and wimpy) feet would benefit from these and while I think he's probably right (please don't tell him I said so) I'm not sure I'm ready.  I mean, they're tire walls for heaven's sake.

I think all this is very amusing especially when a friend pointed out that they sell something very much like them online for quite a bit more than what Jamey paid to make his (which is nothing except for a few dollars worth of bungee-cord for the kids version and paracord for his - the old tire was free).

So, friends, there you have it!  Are they all you imagined? ;-) Pin It

Monday, November 3, 2014

{Non-Technology} Gift Ideas

The past few years I've moved most of my Christmas preparations (gifts, cards, etc.) to before Thanksgiving.  When I'm successful, it lets me truly focus on Advent during Advent- a crazy concept indeed! It allows time for more meaningful Christmas preparations- those of the heart and mind. December is still full of neighborhood gatherings, special church programs and concerts but in between there is peace (depending on your household- the concept is relative:-)).

This is why I'm thinking about gift-giving already.  And I thought you might appreciate some gift ideas that have proved to be wonderful finds for our family- and none of them require batteries or wifi.  Some I've mentioned before and some are new treasures.  Click on the pictures to find further descriptions and additional information (like reviews) but feel free to check other stores and websites to find yourself the best deal.  And don't forget to use your Swagbucks or Ebates earnings to make them even more affordable.

Storytime Toys- These are really sweet little playsets. We have the Goldilocks one below as well as the Three Little Pigs set.  They come in very sturdy carrying cases (with a handle) where the sets can be stored in between playing marathons.  This is one of the things I like best about them- they can be taken apart and stored compactly.  I rotate toys often and these sets make that easy to do.


Peek-a-boo Blocks- I have fallen in love with these blocks.  We didn't have them when our kids were little but I purchased a used set on ebay for our foster child.  The photo below doesn't quite do them justice.  Each block "does" something when you shake it, turn a little dial, etc.  For example, the chick in the egg below makes a peeping sound when you press the one end of the block.  Our big kids (and I) enjoy playing with them, too.  They are on the expensive side, so find a set that suits your fancy and then keep an eye out at yard sales and sites like ebay.


Dutch Blitz- This is a fast-paced group card game that is so much fun.  Young kids can start learning early as all they need to do is match colors and count to ten.  The skill comes in with how fast you can place your cards down while everyone else is vying for some of the same spots.  We play this game a lot at our house- often with neighbor kids.


Playmobil- Ah, playmobil. Every year we continue to add new sets to our collection.  Often our kids use their saved up allowance money to buy the sets themselves.  These are toys worth saving for the next generation (and the next!).  I love the imaginary play that the sets inspire.  While legos tend to appeal to boys, in our house, our girls gravitate to playmobil.


Alphabet Blocks- This was another semi-recent purchase at our house.  In the photo below you can see the different colors in the box which are not shown in the pyramid.  They are beautiful. The cost reflects the "investment" mentality in these blocks.  This is another toy that will be enjoyed for generations.  Each block has a letters, numbers and a picture of an animal on it and the box is a sturdy place to store them when they're not in use (or in our case, a giant plastic pretzel container:-)).


Radio shows like Adventures in Odyssey (young and older kids), Ranger Bill (older kids), Little Orley (young kids) and The Sugar Creek Gang (older kids) are great for car trips (in place of DVD players or hand held devices) and for listening to as they wind down before bed.

Colonial Williamsburg Dolls- Our girls share three of these dolls which can also be found here. These dolls are sweet, well made and very reasonably priced.  Their layers of period-accurate clothes can be removed for re-dressing.


Heart to Heart Dolls- These are an exceptional alternative to American Girl Dolls.  They are extremely well made and represent the beauty of many nations- including Ethiopia, Mexico and Afghanistan.  And the price isn't nearly as extreme.  Browse around because some of these dolls are significantly cheaper than others.


I Never Forget a Face game- This is a darling memory game where faces are matched.  On the back of the box, it tells you where each child is from.  The tiles are sturdy- our game has been well loved for many years and is still holding up beautifully.
Sewing Kits- Sadie takes sewing lessons and her little sister, Miriam, wishes she could, too.  While we wait for her to get a little older, I've been picking up these sweet little sewing kit projects. Everything you need is included (except scissors).  With sewing holes punched in the felt, it makes these projects perfect for beginners and tiny hands. I've taken these kits along places where we needed to wait- it's a perfect quiet activity to make the time pass quickly!


If you're looking for book ideas, do not fear!  I will tell you a little secret.  Use the Sonlight website! I know both homeschoolers that don't use the Sonlight curriculum and folks that don't homeschool at all who use their website for excellent book ideas.  What's best is that you can browse by grade. You can then shop directly from their site or find the book elsewhere.  Here's how- follow this link, hover over "By Grade" at the top and choose the grade. Under the picture of all the books, click on the picture of the globe, then scroll down the page to see all the books.  Sonlight uses real literature so mostly what you'll see there are excellent novels (and a few textbooks).  Click on the ones that interest you for more details.

What are some of your family's favorite (non-technology) gift ideas? Pin It

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Harvest Tally 2014

Finally, I'm able to wrap up our harvest tally for the year.  It's less in many ways than other years but it's so much more than I thought we were going to be able to accomplish. It worked well for me to lower my expectation to absolutely nothing and then be pleasantly surprised as our pantry slowly filled up.  God is so very good.

We used a pressure canner for the first time this year (green beans and soups) and this was our first full year of using the Tattler Reusable Canning Lids.  Overall, I'm still very impressed with them and had good success.  For some reason, I didn't get good seals on my peaches which was discouraging because of how much work canning peaches is.  I just chopped up the peaches that didn't seal and threw them in bags for the freezer.  I do love that buying lids every year or so is a thing of the past. Also, I can say that not one of our Tattler lidded jars has come unsealed- a problem I occasionally experience with metal lids.  Their seals are super tight.

I hope your harvest was gratifying no matter what it's size.  What a gift it is to grow your own food!

Harvest Tally 2014

2 gallons, 1 quart and 1 pint honey

zucchini, chopped and froze, 17 2-3-cup bags
New Zealand spinach, froze, 11 quarts and 11 pints
zucchini relish, 15 jelly jars, canned
zucchini bread, 20 loaves, froze
green beans, 37 quarts pressure canned

tomato soup, 6 quarts canned
chopped tomatoes, 13 pints canned

Brunswick Stew, 14 quarts pressure canned
tomato sauce, 17 quarts and 28 pints, canned

corn, 10 1/2 quarts froze
red raspberries, 1 quart and 3 pints froze (many just didn't get picked or what did were eaten)
vegetable soup, 13 quarts and 1 pint, pressure canned
bell peppers, 1 gallon froze
peaches, 23 quarts canned and 8 3-cup bags froze
peach jam, 12 jelly jars froze

tomato juice, 13 quarts pressure canned
pearsauce, 10 1/2 quarts canned

applesauce, 105 quarts canned

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Thursday, October 23, 2014

Pallet Trailer for Lawn Mower/Tractor

Jamey wanted something to haul things around the property.  Things like firewood, produce, brush, etc.  There's often room for kids as well.  Working with some used pallets, some old (and new boards) and a couple bicycle wheels, he built this and it works great.

sweet potatoes

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