Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Big Littles Gets His Wish

We've had flurries and a few flakes, but no ground cover to speak of... nothing snowball worthy.  Big Littles has been dreaming of snow for weeks.  Thanks to facebook friendships, we've seen pictures of people living north, south, east, and west of us all getting snow, but nothing here.  It's actually been too warm here most days and we've had lots of rain instead.  Big Littles announced one day that he was going to pray to God that we would have snow on Christmas.

I took a deep breath.  That was a tall order.  But I told him to pray anyway.  God would hear him, and if it was God's will it would happen.

On occasion I gave him further explanation and told him that sometimes God has other plans that need to happen for other people and that sometimes when God says "no" it has nothing to do with us.  But I also said that God loves to bless the people that love and obey Him, and we could pray that God would bless us with snow on Christmas. 

So for weeks he has prayed that we would have snow on Christmas.  And I just kind of held my breath and hoped he wouldn't be too disappointed because the weather forecast was not looking very cooperative.

Yesterday, after not saying anything about it for about a week, Biggie confidently announced that we would indeed have snow on Christmas.  I asked him how he knew that and he said, "I've been praying to God about it."  I smiled and gave him a few more encouraging words, but honestly, he had the faith to move mountains and I had almost none that this was going to happen.

So when we woke up this morning and Preacher Man looked out the window and announced that we were going to have a white Christmas, I almost didn't believe him!  And the next moment, I thought of the joy this was going to bring to my son and how this one blessing from God would do so much for his growing faith (and I must admit, mine), and I thanked God for this wonderful gift.

Indeed, it was the best gift of all today.   Sometimes God just blows me away.  I am humbled and thankful that He would be mindful of my young son... and me. 

Luke 18:15-17 - "And they were bringing even their babies to Him so that He would touch them, but when the disciples saw it, they began rebuking them. But Jesus called for them, saying, “Permit the children to come to Me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.  

Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it at all.
The long-anticipated snowball fight!

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Monday, December 24, 2012

Martha, Martha

 If Thanksgiving is a holiday where I work like a slave in the kitchen for days, I'm trying to not let Christmas become that and it would be so easy to do.  My favorite Christmas memory with my children is from a couple of years ago when I collapsed on the floor in exhaustion and my two boys who were still just babies, laughed and cuddled and crawled all over me.  That moment was pure happiness.  And so I try to keep that image in my mind as my goal for the big holiday.  THAT is what I am trying to achieve, not culinary perfection or a home straight out of Pinterest.  It is hard for me, but here is what I am doing to let go of my Martha tendencies and just enjoy the holiday.

my cardinal tree topper that I just love
We eat more junk food.  We just do and I don't stress about it.  For breakfast Christmas morning, we still need protein, so I buy those Little Smokies sausages and crescent rolls in the tube and make pigs in a blanket for us to munch on while we exchange gifts. 

I try to also have some tempting fruit available.  This year, we are doing our big dinner on Christmas Eve, so lunch on Christmas Day will just be leftovers.  I'm liking this arrangement more and more.

For dinner, we are having frozen pizza. 

Frozen pizza came about because we have Bible study that evening and we will be leaving at about 2 am the day after Christmas for a big road trip.  We very rarely have frozen pizza, so this will be a rare treat that everyone will love.  And you know, Trader Joes has cheaper and healthier frozen pizza, so it is easier to let go of the guilt.  I think this might be a new tradition. 

Be blessed, my friends.  Enjoy your day with your family, no matter where you are and no matter how you celebrate. 

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Saturday, December 22, 2012

Comfort and Joy

This is a meal that never fails to leave a sense of satisfaction.  I had major tomato soup/grilled cheese cravings when I was pregnant with my second child.  I grew up eating Campbell's in a can but I finally took the plunge and tried a homemade version and I LOVE it!  It is so easy, I can't believe I didn't do this sooner!

Tomato Soup
  • 2 Tbs. butter
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 1 clove of garlic, minced (or 1 tsp. garlic powder if I'm in a hurry)
  • 1/4 c. flour (or cornstarch or arrowroot powder)
  • 28 oz. can whole canned tomatoes
  • 1 c. chicken stock
  • 1 tsp. dried oregano
  • salt and pepper to taste
 Saute the onion in the butter over medium heat until it starts turning golden brown.  Add the garlic.  After about a minute, quickly stir in the flour and try to incorporate it all into the butter.  Cook and stir it for about a minute and dump in your canned tomatoes and chicken stock.  Season with the oregano, salt, and pepper.  Use a stick blender to puree your soup and let it cook on the stove to meld the flavors for 15 minutes or so. 

(I LOVE my stick blender for soups, but if you don't have one, you can transfer your tomatoes to a regular blender or food processor.  It's just much messier that way.)

Grilled Cheese
I fee like I hardly need to share a recipe, but I guess not everyone knows how to make it... I know I didn't when we first got married!  The first time I made it, I burned the outside and the cheese was still cold!  Butter the outside of two slices of bread and lay the butter side of one of them down on a heated griddle or skillet.  Quickly add your cheese - our favorite is good old cheddar or pepper jack.  Top with the second piece of bread, butter side up.  Once the bread turns golden brown, flip it over to toast the other side.  Once it is done, let it sit on a cutting board for a minute before cutting your sandwich into triangles. 

Also yummy when you add sliced lunch meat, or thinly sliced fresh tomato.  Really, the possibilities are endless.

Do you have a favorite comfort food? 

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Friday, December 14, 2012

Alpha Omega

Isaiah 64:8 - "But now, O Lord, You are our Father;
    We are the clay, and You are our potter;
    We are all the work of Your hand."

Just like sand blowing across a canyon, life shapes us.  I also believe that when we are willing to be molded, God shapes us, and He is the Master Artist when it comes to creating a vessel for His glory. 

Lately, I have been thinking a lot about how God has been molding me, particularly when it comes to my need to relinquish control.  

Just before the birth of my first child, my midwife warned me about the need to relinquish control.  Almost every day, she came face to face with life and its beginning.  The birth of a baby, but also the birth of a mother.  Occasionally, she witnessed the end of life as well.  Seeing the nature of life's beginning and end, she knew very well that we have no control over such things.

Still, I fought for control of my child.  When he was born, he was taken from me.  He was kept in NICU for six days without good cause.  Many of the earliest parenting decisions I had intended to make were taken from me.  I was not even allowed to see my child for more than 10 minutes until the day after he was born, and I was not allowed to be with him or hold him when I wanted.  Thank the Lord he was just fine and we were able to bring home a perfectly healthy boy after those six days.  But I had nightmares about the experience for the next two years.  I dreamed that he was back in NICU, attached to wires, and that I was not allowed to hold him.  I dreamed that when we were allowed to bring him home, there were doctors chasing us down in the parking lot demanding that we bring him back.

I have a friend that had undergone a similar experience with her third child just months before.  She made encouraging comments to me about this being a good lesson for her in understanding the need to relinquish control.  But I clung to control more than ever.  This was MY child.  I would protect him with all of my might.

It is so ironic to me that we have two beautiful unplanned children.  You see, we tried to control when we had children and took those matters into our own hands.  Two times, God showed us that He had better plans.  The third child that we prayed about and asked God for months to conceive was lost before he was ever born.  It was then that I finally began to understand that when it comes to life and death, we have no control, it is only God. 

And so we turned our hearts to God and have made the commitment to give Him all control over the lives brought forth in the Holy Covenant of our marriage. This is not a realm we wish to control anymore.  We do not bind this choice upon others, it is simply where God has brought us and we seek to glorify Him with a family devoted to Him.

So God has blessed us with a new life in our family... a little one that should arrive some time in June.  The moment I told my husband the news, he thanked God and immediately said a prayer dedicating this child back to the Lord.  We are finally beginning to understand - these children are gifts from the Lord.  They are not our own.  He has lent them to us and entrusted them to our care for a time so we can bring them up in "the nurture and admonition of the Lord".  The time may be long or it may be very short.  We have no guarantees.  Even the two children that have been born to us already may not live through tomorrow.  For that matter, we may not live through tomorrow.  God alone holds the power over life and death, and thankfully, He, in His grace, has offered us a way to be with Him when we die.

Until now, I had not been able to face this thought, and even now, it is deeply painful, but I can finally say, with tearful joy, that I have a child in heaven, gazing upon the beauty of the Lord. 

God is good.  Always.

Lord, come quickly.

From Revelation 21 -
"Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.  And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.  And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.  He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
"And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” And he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment.  The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son." 
"And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, and its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there.  They will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations.  But nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb's book of life."

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Saturday, December 8, 2012

Tortilla Night

Mini Tacos

We've started a tradition of having "Tortilla Night" in our home (almost) every Friday night.  We have a Bible study as a family and open up our home to friends and neighbors to join us for dinner and the Bible study, and people are welcome to arrive whenever they can.  My husband sends out e-mail invitations/reminders every Tuesday and we don't ask for an RSVP.  Ever since we started, we've always had at least one other family join us, and sometimes up to four, though many just come for the Bible study.  I got the idea from a large family that did this back in our previous home congregation and we've been happy to carry on here in upstate New York.  (This family orders pizza for everyone, but we have a dairy allergy in our family that makes pizza complicated, so just do whatever floats your boat.)

I thought it might be helpful to explain some of how we make this work and perhaps you will get some ideas that will be useful in your efforts to "practice hospitality".

Logistics -
Doing the same routine every week is very helpful for me.  After a few weeks, my mind has gone to "autopilot" and Fridays fall into a predictable routine.  I keep a check list on a post-it note on the fridge for all of the foods and utensils I need to set out (I'll go into that in the next section).  Thursday is my "kitchen day" giving me a chance to do some extra food prep and Friday is my house cleaning day, which means I give the bathrooms a good cleaning and do some extra dusting/glass cleaning if I am able.  I am intentional about not making my house spotless... we are simply opening up our home and welcoming others to join our family, we are not hosting an "event".  I have the children clear away toys while I fix dinner, but I do not stress about the appearance of our home.

During the Study -
I keep a large basket of Bible books, notebooks, and pencils for the children to use while we have our study.  My children are expected to sit quietly while we study and get involved as they are old enough to do so.  My husband leads the study and usually does different Bible stories.  Right now we are spending a few weeks talking about King Saul and his character. 

The Food -
As food allergies, special diets, and plain old finickiness are on the rise, I find the food we serve for "Tortilla Night" to be the perfect solution.  I keep all of the ingredients in separate bowls served buffet style - hot foods on the stove and cold foods on a side table.  Everyone can chose what they like and ingredients are available for taco salads, bowls, soft tacos and burritos.  I haven't found another meal that better suits the wide variety of needs for our guests and because the food is fresh and tasty, everyone enjoys it too!  (It's also not an expensive meal, which is good since we are doing this regularly.  I can buy many of the ingredients at Aldi which saves a lot of money!)

This is what I generally serve:
  • Homemade Refried Beans (recipe follows) - though I use canned in a pinch
  • Taco Meat (1 lb. ground beef with 2 Tbs. homemade taco seasoning)
  • Shredded Cheese
  • Rice (recipe follows)
  • Avocado or Guacamole
  • Diced Tomato
  • Lettuce
  • Chipotle flavored Salad Dressing - I buy this, but have a homemade recipe I want to try soon
  • Diced Green Pepper
  • Diced Red Onion
  • Salsa and Hot Sauce
  • Tortilla Chips
  • Flour and Corn Tortillas
  • Sour Cream 
Do I have every ingredient every week?  No, but this is the list I go from when making a grocery list and getting things ready.  I often make the meat and/or rice in bulk and freeze it and this saves a lot of time.  I buy salad in the clamshell containers so I'm not prepping lettuce (plus it lasts so long this way!)... in other words, I look for ways to save time so Friday prep is not so overwhelming.  I also set out cups, a pitcher of water, cloth napkins, silverware and plates/bowls so people can feel free to help themselves.   I don't worry about fixing dessert, so if someone wants to bring something, I tell them they can bring something sweet to share.

Some recipes:
My old standby recipe for refried beans and Spanish rice is here and we still use this method sometimes.  The beans are not as smooth and the prep for both of these is more last-minute.  I've since found a new refried bean recipe that we really love and a friend gave me a rice cooker.  Try out the different recipes and decide what you like the best.

Refried Beans - all in one pot!
  • 3 c. dried pinto beans
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tsp. chipotle powder (Penzey's)
  • 1 tsp. chili powder (Penzey's) 
  • 1 1/2 tsp. salt
Sometime the day before you want to serve your beans, sort and soak the pinto beans in enough water to cover by a couple of inches.  In the afternoon before our meal, I drain the beans and rinse them in a colander, then put them right back in the pot.  Add the onion, garlic cloves, chipotle powder and chili powder.  Cover with water by about an inch and bring to a boil.  Once it is boiling, I put the lid on and lower the heat to about medium so the beans are gently bubbling.  Cook them for at least an hour - long enough for them to get nice and soft.

Now comes the tricky part... you want enough liquid to keep the beans moist, but don't want them too runny.  You might need to drain off some of the cooking liquid at this point and I recommend reserving it in case you want to add some back in.  Use a stick blender to puree the beans and once they are all nice and smooth, mix in the salt, and check for flavor and texture.  If they are too runny, you can just cook them on the stove for a while with the lid off and if they are too dry, you can add back some of your cooking liquid.  Keep warm until ready to serve.   

Cilantro Lime Rice in the Rice Cooker

  • 2 Tbs. butter
  • 2 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 2 scoops of white or brown rice (the scoop that comes with the rice cooker)
  • 1/4 c. lime juice
  • water that comes up to the "2" line of your rice cooker
  • 1 Tbs. cilantro (I have also used the kind in the tube when I can't find nice fresh stuff and it works very well.)
Put all of the ingredients except the cilantro in your rice cooker and turn it on.  When the cook cycle is finished, stir in the cilantro and let your rice cooker keep everything warm until ready to serve.

For a stove top version see the original recipe here.

Do you have any regular ways that you open up your home to show hospitality?  What do you do to make things go smoothly?  Got any favorite foods your guests have enjoyed?

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Saturday, December 1, 2012


This is such an exciting time of year!  Last year we started a tradition of a special way of counting down until the holidays, and celebrated by doing something small together each day.   I try to make most of the activities focused upon serving others or at the very least, just being together and doing simple things and not so much about "getting stuff".

Here is our lineup for this year:
1 - make gingerbread
2 - M&Ms   (I keep things VERY simple on Sunday mornings!)
3 - make cinnamon applesauce ornaments
4 - read  Up On the Housetop
5 - make paper snowflakes
6 - make snowmen pancakes
7 - make stained glass trees
8 - read The Polar Express
9 - M&Ms
10 - make treats/cards for the neighbors
11 - deliver treats/cards to the neighbors
12 - make beaded candy cane ornaments
13 - make stamped cards for the relatives
14 - make pies for a special Pie Party that evening
15 - put out birdseed in our feeder and watch for birds
16 - M&Ms
17 - Daddy Appreciation Day  (it is his birthday!)
18 - write a letter to Santa
19 - read The Grinch
20 - make cut out cookies
21 - make holiday snack mix
22 - read  Mr. Willowby's Christmas Tree (my favorite Christmas book!)
23 - M&Ms
24 - make cookies for Santa
25 - make pigs in a blanket and hot cocoa for breakfast

If you are interested in doing something similar, here are a few more sources for good ideas:
Our 2011 Countdown
Friends at the Common Room Countdown - some ideas for older children
I also really like their idea for writing these activities on colorful paper and making a paper chain as a way to count down. 
Countdown Aussie Style

What are some of the small, but special traditions you do in your family to enjoy the holidays together?

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Monday, November 26, 2012

Lady Soap

So everybody has been trying to get you to "buy stuff" for the past week.  Sorry to say I'm about to do it too.  BUT, it's for a good cause, and this could be a great gift for the person that is difficult to buy for.  People such as:
  • Men!  I find it much more difficult to buy for male relatives
  • The person that already has everything
  • The person that has limited space... this item is consumable!
  • The dieter - I like doing food gifts because they are also consumable, but some do not find temptation a nice gift
So who is left on your list?  Could they use some lovely handcrafted soap?  Could you? 

Samples of Tea Tree Oil Soap

In our family, we have to use natural soaps in the winter because of our very sensitive skin.  I can get away with a cheap bar of Ivory in the summer months, but when the air is dry, my sons and I need nourishing, gentle soap.  It doesn't get any better than the beautiful soaps made by my cousin, Fiona.

She is a true Proverbs 31 woman, taking care of her adorable little girl every day, supporting her husband in his work as a gospel preacher, and making soaps to help her family.  I've been blessed to sample some of her soaps and having used many different kinds of natural soaps over the years, I can say that hers are top notch! 

For more information, to ask her questions, or to order, you can go "Like" her business, "Lady Soap" on Facebook.
Here is the link:  https://www.facebook.com/LadySoap?ref=ts&fref=ts
You can also e-mail FionaHamm8@gmail.com

Details for those who are interested:
Each soap has a blend of Coconut, Olive, Castor, Palm Oils and Cocoa Butter 

Large Lavender ($7)
Olive, palm, coconut, soybean, and cottonseed oils with lavender essential oi
popular soap, great to use anywhere! Lavender is known for its antiseptic and calming effects. This soap’s anti-inflammatory properties also help with itchy skin.
Large Eucalyptus Peppermint Swirl ($7)
Olive, palm, coconut, cocoa butter, and castor oils with Eucalyptus and Peppermint essential oils and red colorant
Two healing oils combine to help with muscle relaxation, stress and serves as an antiseptic for skin irritations.
Lemongrass & Sage
Olive, palm, coconut, cocoa butter, and castor oil with lemongrass essential oil and sage
Use this in the morning to refresh! Lemongrass will help revitalize your skin while sage will help with dryness and soreness.
Coffee Scrub ($6)
Olive, palm, coconut, cocoa butter, and castor oil with coffee grounds
Keep this soap in the kitchen! Since coffee is a neutralizer this soap is perfect to remove odors such as use after chopping garlic and onions
Orange Cinnamon

Olive, palm, coconut, cocoa butter, and castor oil with sweet orange essential oil and cinnamon
The cinnamon acts as an exfoliant while the sweet orange helps with dry, irritated skin.
Tea Tree 


Olive, palm, coconut, cocoa butter, and castor oil with tea tree essential oil
Tea tree oil has antifungal and healing properties that make this a great soap for skin and helps calm aching muscles.
Tea Tree with Honey

Olive, palm, coconut, cocoa butter, and castor oil with tea tree essential oil and honey
Combine the benefits of tea tree oil with honey and you have a antibacterial bar that is great for acne and eczema
Lavender Castile

Olive Oil with lavender essential oil
Made with 100% olive oil, this soap will smooth your skin and will add vitamins giving your skin a healthy glow. This a a mild soap that is great for the kids!

Each standard bar is 2oz and the larger bars are 3-4oz. 

Of the soaps I have tried, Tea Tree Oil is my current favorite.  It is a really nice, smooth soap with a refreshing scent.  I also love using the Lavender on my boys.  I really do think these soaps would be a perfect gift for any women, but especially the hard-to-buy-for man.  For one, men tend to like bar soaps, at least those of my acquaintance.  The scents are nice, but not flowery, and even though her company is called Lady Soap, my husband loves them.  We are also a family that has fun with a good natured tease, so giving a man in my family Lady Soap would garner some fun and laughter.

If you mention Church Mouse with your order, you get 10% off! 
If you order $30 or more, you get free shipping.  Otherwise shipping is a flat rate of $5 which is sent priority mail. 
And Fiona only has about 8 bars of each scent so supplies are definitely limited. 

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Friday, November 16, 2012

Prayers that Inspire

Every night, either Preacher Man or I pray with our boys as we tuck them into their beds.  It is a precious time with a final kiss of their forehead and one last cuddle before saying "Goodnight".

I stumbled onto a way of praying that has just captured the heart of my little boys.  It instantly calms, soothes, and inspires them. 

Our bedtime prayer goes something like this:
"Thank you God for my boy _______.  He is such a blessing.  Help him to be a man after Your own heart like David.  Help him to be wise like Solomon.  Help him to be strong like Samson.  Help him to be bold like Paul.  Help him to be faithful like Abraham.  Help him to be an encourager like Barnabus.  Help him to grow to be like Your Son, Jesus, and to have a heart that loves your law and wants to obey it.  Bless ________ and help him sleep well so tomorrow he can do everything he can to bring You glory.  In Jesus name, Amen."

And I change it up with different Bible characters, of course.  I'm amazed by the peace that comes over them while I am praying with them in this way.  I can tell that they are inspired to grow up to be like these Mighty Men of the Bible.  I hope they will always keep this vision on their hearts.

I just wanted to share something that I stumbled upon that has been so inspirational to my boys.  To God be the glory!

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Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Just Three Things

Life... sometimes I feel like I'm living it well, and other times I feel like it is eating me alive. 

This fall has been very, very hard for me physically and it has taken a toll on all of us.  We've been in survival mode around here, but beyond just the week-long flu bug kind of survival mode, more like the month-and-a-half-long kind of survival mode.  And because your family will be able to make it if you go for a month without dusting and cleaning windows, but will not make it if you go for a month without washing the dishes or doing laundry, I have found that it helps so much to keep the three most essential chores at the forefront of my mind.

If you can only do three things, do these three:

Hungry people are unhappy people, especially children.  #1 of the top three is to get everyone fed each day.  Your meals don't need to be gourmet.  Sometimes you just need to fill the bellies.  Use your stock of freezer meals, and when you run out, buy some convenience foods, ask others to bring you meals, and eat PBJ every day for lunch if necessary, just make sure you fill the bellies. 

#1 is going to get complicated if you can't keep up with the dishes, so washing dishes regularly is second in importance.  Try to wash all of the dishes after each meal.  If you keep up in this way, it will only take you about 10 minutes of work at a time.  Really.  If they pile up for 2 or 3 days, it will be a huge project and you may not have the energy to tackle them.  If you are struggling to keep up, buy paper plates, bowls, and cups and use them. 

Do a load of laundry each day.  Just one.  If you have a little extra energy do two so you can take the day off tomorrow.  You can fold laundry while you rest on the couch, and throwing in a load takes minimal time and energy.  You can do it!  Putting them away is great if you have the energy, but the most important thing is just to get the clothes washed, dried and folded so they can be worn again.  Re-wear clothes that aren't dirty so you don't make more laundry than is necessary.

Another way this mental prioritizing is helpful is if you are working outside the home and are struggling to keep up day to day, or if you tend to get sidetracked with hobbies and not get dinner ready... force yourself to have the self-discipline to take care of these three things every day before you do anything else.

On your better days, try to wipe down the bathroom and get the floors cleaned.  Work for 10 minutes and rest for 20 (or more).  Bit by bit, you will get by.  This is a good time to give your child a crash course in using the vacuum or rinsing dishes for you.  My friend Amy says that a job done imperfectly by a child is an improvement over not being done at all by you.  

Lastly, keep praying and reading the Psalms.  It helps.
Auntie Leila has some wonderful advice on this as well.

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Saturday, November 10, 2012

Potluck Saturday: Pumpkin Chili

This recipe is for pumpkin lovers and pumpkin haters alike!  And it is DEFINITELY for chili lovers!  This is a flavorful, medium hot chili with beans and meat. 
  • 1 lg. onion, diced
  • 1 lb. green pepper, diced (or use about a cup of frozen)
  • 5 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 lb. dry pinto beans, soaked, cooked, and salted to taste (see instructions here)
  • 28 oz. can diced tomato (or 1 qt. home canned)
  • 7 oz. can green chilis
  • 2 lbs. ground beef, cooked and drained
  • 2 Tbs. chili powder (use less if you like milder chili, more if you like it HOT!)
  • 1 tsp. ground chipotle powder
  • 2/3 c. buttermilk (or sour some milk with lemon juice)
  • a can of pumpkin (or an equal amount of pureed butternut squash)
Saute the onion and diced pepper in a little oil.  When the onions start to turn golden, add the garlic and saute until it starts turning color also.  Add the veggies and all of the rest of the ingredients to a crock pot and stir them up.  Cook for 8 hours on low.  (Make sure you have at least a 5 qt. crock pot because this recipe will fill it to the brim!)

If you use the entire can of pumpkin, you might notice some pumpkin flavor.  If you only use half, no one will even know it is there!  The pumpkin mellows out the spice while allowing the chili to have more flavor, as does the buttermilk.  While a bit unorthodox, these two ingredients make the recipe what it is, which is DELICIOUS!

As always, I highly recommend Penzey's Spices.  I use their medium hot chili powder and once you try it, you won't want to go back to the stuff in the grocery store that is full of salt and tastes like dirt!  Penzey's doesn't pay me to say this, I just love sharing the goodness.

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Saturday, October 27, 2012

Birthday Cupcakes

The recipe is from the famous Magnolia Bakery in New York City. These are REALLY good cupcakes! 
2 3/4 cups flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
2 cups sugar
4 large eggs, at room temperature
1 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Vanilla Buttercream, recipe follows

Preheat oven to 350*. Line 2 (1/2 cup-12 capacity) muffin tins with cupcake papers. In a small bowl, combine the flour, salt and baking powder. Set aside.

In a large bowl, cream the butter until smooth. Add the sugar gradually and beat until fluffy, about 3 minutes with an electric mixer. Add the eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the dry ingredients in 3 parts, alternating with the milk and vanilla. With each addition, beat until the ingredients are incorporated but do not over beat. Using a rubber spatula, scrape down the batter in the bowl to make sure the ingredients are well blended. Spoon the batter into the cupcake liners (use a cookie scoop), filling them about 3/4 full. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted into the center of the cupcake comes out clean.

Cool the cupcakes in tins for 15 minutes. Remove from the tins and cool completely on a wire rack before icing.

Vanilla Buttercream:
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
6 to 8 cups confectioners' sugar (an entire two pound bag comes out just right for me)
1/2 cup milk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Place the butter in a large mixing bowl. Add 4 cups of the sugar and then the milk and vanilla. On the medium speed of an electric mixer, beat until smooth and creamy, about 3 to 5 minutes. Gradually add the remaining sugar, 1 cup at a time, beating well after each addition (about 2 minutes), until the icing is thick enough to be of good spreading consistency. You may not need to add all of the sugar (I always do!). If desired, add a few drops of food coloring and mix thoroughly. (Use and store the icing at room temperature because icing will set if chilled.) Icing can be stored in an airtight container for up to 3 days.

To make them look like Magnolia's, pipe on the icing in a swirl and top with sprinkles. I'm not so handy with the icing bag, so I just spread mine on top with a swirly flourish!

Yield: enough for 2 dozen cupcakes
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Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Just a Little Tip for the Kitchen

Do you cook with celery leaves?  It not, do give it a try!  I especially like to chop them up and add them to soup.

Here are three soups in particular where I use celery leaves when I add the celery:
Chicken Noodle, Minestrone, and Pasta Fagioli

Got any little tips for ways to cook with something that would otherwise be thrown away?

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Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Building Character: Boldness

This week we are talking about BOLDNESS vs. fearfulness.

Our eldest son needs no encouragement towards greater boldness!  To quote Ogden Nash, he is "as brave as a barrel full of bears"!  I, on the other hand, tend towards being shy and fearful.  This is an area I pray about and sadly, where I regularly fail.  So if you or your child is like me, the emphasis will be on just saying something... anything!  Just speak the Lord's name out loud and do it with as much confidence as you can muster!  If your child is like my son, emphasize being confident in the Lord and not in our own selves.

BOLDNESS vs. fearfulness

Confidence that what I have to say or do is true, right, and just in the sight of God.

Acts 4:29 - "Lord... grant that Your bond-servants may speak Your word with all confidence."

This week's Bible Story:  Acts 4 - The Boldness of Peter and John
In chapter 3, Peter and John healed a lame man at the temple.  There were many witnesses to this miracle, and the apostles were very clear that they were able to perform this act of healing because of the power given to them by Jesus Christ.  They then preached a sermon calling all of the Jews to repent of their sin and to be converted to Christ.

Their proclamations about Jesus came to the attention of the Jewish rulers, and Peter and John were put into prison for the night.  The next day, they were brought before a large crowd of Jewish leaders for questioning.  They were specifically asked, "By what power or what name have you done this?"  Peter, being filled with the Holy Spirit answered, "By the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead, by Him this man stands here before you whole."  He also said, "Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved."

The rulers marveled at the boldness of Peter and John.  With the man who had been lame standing before them, healthy and whole, they couldn't say anything against them.  They decided that the best they could do would be to severely threaten them.  Verse 18 says, "So they called them and commanded them not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus."  Peter and John said that they would have to obey God rather than men and despite the threats made to them, went on their way, boldly proclaiming Jesus, His death, resurrection, and the salvation available through Him.

  • What sort of persecution did Peter and John face?  Did that stop them?
  • What sort of persecution might we face?  Should that stop us?
  • Peter and John were NOT bold to speak out about political or personal views.  They were speaking about a matter of life or death!  Do you think they would have had the same kind of boldness for things that were less important?
  • Peter and John were filled with the Holy Spirit and that seemed to help them with boldness.  Do we have this today?  
  • What are some specific times and places we can speak Jesus' name with boldness?  (Role-playing might be a good idea.)
  • How should we handle it if we are ever asked to stop speaking Jesus' name?
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Saturday, October 20, 2012

Baked Ziti for a Crowd

We recently hosted our largest crowd ever in our new home - about 30 people!  I didn't know how many people to expect that day, but I knew it would be a lot.  I wanted to be sure we had plenty of food for everyone.  We were also leaving for a big camping trip the next day, so I wanted to keep things as simple as possible!  (Hence the boxed brownie mixes!)  Things worked out so well, I wanted to record what I did for future gatherings.  If you haven't made baked ziti before, think lasagne, just 4x easier to prepare.

Baked Ziti for a Crowd
 In bowl #1 mix:
  •  2 lbs. cooked and drained ziti
  • 6 c. pasta sauce (homemade from 2, 28 oz. cans crushed tomatoes)
  • 2 lbs. of ground Italian Sausage (optional)
 In bowl #2 mix:
  • 2 lbs. ricotta cheese
  • 2 c. mozzarella cheese, grated
  • fresh basil to taste (I used several Tbs. from my plant)
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. pepper
  • 1/4 c. grated parmesan 
**You will also need another 4 c. mozzarella.

Layer in this way in an extra large disposable pasta pan:  1/2 of the ziti mixture goes in the bottom.  Cover with all of the ricotta cheese mixture.  Put the remaining half of the ziti mixture on top of that, top with the 4 c. of mozzarella and cover with foil.  Bake in a 350* oven for 30 minutes, removing the foil during the last 10 minutes to let the cheese get a little brown and bubbly.

(I think my large roasting pan might also work well,  I'll try that next time.)

For our gathering, I served - 
  • this recipe for baked ziti that serves 24
  • a crock pot full of dairy free/gluten free meatballs in sauce
  • I also cooked 3 pounds of whole wheat linguine and some gluten free pasta, but I think next time I will only cook one pound.  There was TONS leftover!
  • 1 lb. of salad greens loaded up with yummy chopped veggies
  • for dessert, I prepared 15x10" pan of brownies, thawed a bag of frozen raspberries, and served a quart of vanilla ice cream.  

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Tuesday, October 9, 2012

And so it goes...

I'm up far later than I should be for a person that needs to wake up at 3 a.m. to begin a road trip.  A very long road trip.  I've been up trying to make food for the trip so we can keep fast food stops to a minimum.  So we've got:
  • bran muffins
  • breakfast sausages
  • refried beans
  • spanish rice
  • corn tortillas (Preacher Man made these!)
  • PBJ and lunch meat for sandwiches
  • loads of chopped fresh veggies & fruit
 We found a good veggie burger recipe we'd like to try next time around.  Not because we are opposed to meat, but because they could stand not being refrigerated.  We're going to try beans and rice in plastic cups in the car.  I'll let you know how that one goes.  (Hopefully not too messy!!)

All that to say, I didn't get the posts done I would have liked to have done, and so it will be another week before you hear from me again.  And so it goes... 

Once we get home, I hope to stay there for a while.  Boring is good.  I like boring!

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Friday, October 5, 2012

"I'm all about that"

I went to college with an adorable girl that used to say the phrase, "I'm all about that".  I'm not sure if this was a general trend, or just what was going on in the bubble of the little Christian school I was attending, but it caught on.   The color yellow?  "I'm all about that".  Hawaiian pizza?  Rachmaninoff?  Swishing through fall leaves? Definitely "all about that".

And I really don't intend to demean what was just fun banter.  I think God gave us some wonderful pleasures to enjoy in this life and that if we walk around with a sober look all of the time, it will not draw other to Christ whereas infectious joy in God's creation, WILL.  But I was thinking about this phrase lately in regards to the choices that we make and the way we live our lives. 

And since today is the day I like to post about Homeschooling and Mothering in general this post can certainly bend towards that direction, but this is a choice every person needs to make at some point in his or her lives.

I've said it before in several different ways and I don't know how to more powerfully convey the meaning. 

"Nothing else in this life matters.  NOTHING.  Only Jesus Christ and that we have a heart for the Lord."

"He is EVERYTHING and everything is about Him."

From a popular preacher, "If you've missed heaven, you've missed it all."

But really, I think this one may be the best: 

"Jesus Christ?  I'm ALL about that!"

So if you go around freely sharing how much Jesus means to you, what does that make you? 

I had a sudden realization a few years ago that I had become "one of those people".  Radical.  Extreme.  People might wonder if I was brainwashed.  Serving Christ had become my WHOLE life.  Sports, politics, making money, saving money, health and nutrition, and any number of other things that people can be passionate about.  Meh.  It's all just ok.  I can even view those things from a spiritual perspective. But really, what am I ALL about?

Galatians 6:14 - But God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.

Ecclesiastes 12:13 - "Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God and keep His commandments, For this is man’s all." 
For a little self-evaluation:
If you were to ask your children, what would they say you were all about? 
How do you spend the majority of your time?
Where do you spend most of your money?

Are we REALLY all about Jesus?  Or have we deceived ourselves.
Let us press on!

Philippians 3:12-14 - "Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me.  Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus."

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Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Chicken Stock in the Crock Pot

If my traditional stove-top method of making chicken stock is a bit much for you, then here is a fast and easy method to try in your crock pot.  I like this method because you can do it with any leftover chicken skin and bones, so it is a great use for a picked over roasted or rotisserie chicken, or for all of the bits left from bone-in chicken breasts or drumsticks.  I've also simplified the recipe making it easy to memorize if you are so inclined. 

This simple, fast stock works well if frozen in various size containers.  I use mostly pints and quarts and keep them in the door of my deep freeze.

Crock Pot Chicken Stock
  • bits and pieces from your leftover chicken carcass - meat removed for another use
  • 2 large carrots, scrubbed clean and broken in half
  • 2 large ribs of celery, also cleaned and broken in half - adding the leaves is good
  • 2 medium onions, quartered (leave the skins on)
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1/2 c. fresh parsley (or 2 Tbs. dried)
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • a teaspoon of whole peppercorns
  • a splash of apple cider vinegar (optional, but it helps leech out all of the healthy stuff into the broth)
  • just enough water to cover
Do you see the 2-thing going on with the vegetables?  That is an easy way to remember how much to throw in. 

Fill up your crock pot with all of these goodies, set it on low for about 8 hours. 

Once it is done, strain the broth through a sieve and discard the chicken and vegetables.

Refrigerate the broth and once it has cooled, skim the fat off of the top.   Pack your broth into containers and use within a couple of days or freeze for future use. 

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Monday, October 1, 2012

Building Character: Availability

This week we are talking about AVAILABILITY vs. self-centeredness.

In weeks past, we have discussed Attentiveness and Alertness, which are both character qualities that help us learn to put others ahead of ourselves.  Availability focuses on the same thing: others.

When I think of availability, I think of giving of my time.  If my time is scheduled down to the very minute, there will not be much left for spontaneous, and much needed service.  Time is a valuable, and limited resource, so we must learn to use it well.  I am blessed to have more freedom and flexibility with my time than many other people, but I need to make sure that I am using my "extra time" for the glory of God and for serving, not just for my own gratification.  

The bottom line is that I need to always keep the proper perspective.  I'm sure most of you are familiar with this cliche, but it is simple and makes the point well.  My life needs to be ordered in this way:
1. Jesus
2. Others
3. You

And with that, you get JOY.  What a nice, simple way to keep our priorities straight, and it is easy for our kids to remember too.

AVAILABILITY vs. self-centeredness

Making my own schedule and priorities secondary to the wishes of those I am serving.

Philippians 2:20-21 - "For I have no one else of kindred spirit who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare.  For they all seek their own interests, not those of Christ Jesus."

Doesn't that verse make you feel sad for Paul?  The only person he felt like he could trust to send to the brethren in Philippi was Timothy.  Let's admonish ourselves and our children to never let the same be said of us.  Let us always remember that nothing else in this life matters one single bit.  Nothing else but Jesus Christ.  And EVERYTHING we do, is all about Him.  If we are so busy seeking our own interests that we are not able to serve Him and His saints, then we need to cut some things out of our lives. 

Note to Mothers:  By serving your husband and children, you are serving Christ.  I am fully aware that there are times in our lives where being faithful in those two realms of service require ALL of our time and energy.  If that is where you are at this time, then know that you are doing Holy Work and continue serving faithfully.  Do not feel guilty if you are unable to keep up with Sister So-and-so, especially if she is in a different stage in life or has different circumstances.  God does not ask you to do what she is doing, He only asks you to be faithful in the tasks He has given to you.

This week's Bible story:  Jesus Makes Himself Available to the Multitudes
Mark 6:30-44

Jesus was having a difficult time.  He had just found out about the death of His cousin, and faithful servant of God, John the Baptist.  And John's death particularly distressing because he had been beheaded for offending the king when he said that he had no right to the wife he had married.  Jesus loved John and was surely mourning the loss while He also had to comfort the other disciples.  Jesus said to them, "Come away to a deserted place and rest a while."  Verse 31 tells us that they had been so busy lately that "they did not even have time to eat."

So they went away into a boat by themselves, but the multitudes saw them and ran to meet Jesus.  Jesus had been hoping for a little downtime with His disciples.  No doubt He wanted to rest, get nourishment and meditate before getting back to work, but it was not to be.  Verse 34 says Jesus "was moved with compassion for them, because they were like sheep not having a shepherd.  So He began to teach them many things." 

While it is not the focus of today's study, you can go on to talk as much or as little as you like about what happened next, which was the miracle when Jesus fed over 5,000 people!  Jesus saw the needs of the multitudes, set aside His personal wants and wishes, and showed them compassion.  He took time for them, teaching, healing and serving them.  Jesus is a wonderful example to us of pouring out our lives to glorify God and serve others.

  • Young children are so naturally self-centered, that I think they need help learning what things they are doing for themselves and what things they do for others.  Bring it to their attention and offer praise when you see them serving others - helping with a chore, assisting a sibling, cleaning up after themselves, etc...
  • I think it is also helpful to point out to them when they are being self-centered.  For instance, we have a child that likes to dictate how the other child can play and always wants things to be "his way".  Sometimes I question him saying, "Are you playing that way to make your brother happy or yourself happy?" Sometimes they need a little help figuring out a way to play where they can both be happy.  Don't think it is impossible to teach siblings how to serve one another.  What better way to learn than at home? 
  • Think of a service project you can do together.  It can be as simple as coloring pictures to send to someone that is sick or suffering.  It could be visiting a friend that is shut-in or a nursing home. Try to find some way you can go out of your way to show compassion and service to others.
  • Just like Jesus, we need to make sure we always take the time to share the gospel with someone that is interested in the message.  Talk about ways that you can do this.  Pray for God to send you someone that is looking for the gospel.  Pray for God to help you speak His name with boldness when you are interacting with other people.  Take the time to talk about Jesus throughout each day with your children.  Remember, they need to hear the gospel too!
Next week, BOLDNESS!

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Saturday, September 22, 2012

Homemade Applesauce

Fresh from the Orchard!

The (delicious) End Result
24 large apples
1/2 c. water
2 tbs. bottled lemon juice
1/4 c. to 1 1/2 c. sugar
2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1 tsp. vanilla

Peel, core, and thinly slice apples. Put apples into a large pot with water and lemon juice. Cook, covered with a lid until tender, about 20-25 min., stirring occasionally OR cook on high in a crock pot for about 4 hours. When apples are tender, chop coarsely with a metal spoon (or potato masher). Add sugar 1/4 c. at a time until you reach your preferred sweetness. (You may substitute light brown sugar for a rich maple-like flavor.) Add cinnamon, nutmeg, and vanilla and continue to cook until sugar dissolves. Spoon into hot jars (prepared according to directions) to within 1/2" of top. Release air bubbles, clean rims, and seal. Process in a water bath canner for 20 minutes for pints, and 30 minutes for quarts.
For more information about Home Canning, see this post.

Number of Servings: Makes about 5 pints.

If you get a food mill, you will save loads of time, and the kids can help!  We make applesauce almost every year, so it has been a great investment.
Preparation Variation for Smooth Applesauce:
Fill a large crockpot with whole, small apples. Wash first, but no other prep is necessary for them. Add the water & lemon juice and cook on high for 4 hours, or low for 8. Run the apples through a food mill. Add the sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg & vanilla to the pulp and stir until it dissolves.


- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

For Apple Butter:
Fill a large crockpot with whole, small apples. Wash first, but no other prep is necessary for them. Add 2 c. water and cook on high for 4 hours or low for 8. Run the apples through a food mill. Rinse out your crock pot. Measure 2 qts. apple pulp and put it back into the crock pot. Add 2 c. sugar, 2 tsp. cinnamon, and 1/4 tsp. cloves. Cook on high another 4 hours or low another 8, leaving the lid off for the last 2-3 hours. The mixture should thicken and reduce quite a bit. Ladle hot apple butter into hot jars, leaving 1/4" headspace. Remove air bubbles. Cap and process for 10 minutes in a water bath canner. (If the butter becomes too thick, add water or apple juice until you reach the desired consistency. This has never happened for me though.)

(I had a great system one year where every night I would put the apples in to cook. In the morning, I would run them through the food mill and put it back in the crock pot to cook.  I would process the jars each afternoon. It was a good system!)

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Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Stuff & Nonsense

Clothing Storage in the Basement
Do you feel overwhelmed by your stuff?  

This comes from being abundantly blessed, so we have a good reason to check our complaints and be thankful.  But there is more to life than managing our stuff, so it is helpful if our stuff is an asset to living our lives instead of becoming a chaotic distraction. 

A recent realization:
It’s not all about having absolute minimal possessions.  It is much more about using our resources, and one of our most precious resources is SPACE.

Some have more space than others, so there is no one-size-fits-all solution.  What we need is to achieve a careful balance of needful stuff for our present space.  The smaller the space, the less you are going to be able to need!  If you have more space, then you can keep more.  Just remember that needful stuff includes the things that we can use to bless others. 

So, we start by weeding out the stuff we don't need.  Is there a way to use it to bless others?  If so, do.  But if that pair of shoes is truly worn out, please just throw them away.  (This is very hard for me!)  I have discovered that I can free up a lot of space in my home just by throwing away all of the trash!!  So before you start organizing, go through each room with a trash bag and a giveaway box and get the stuff you don't need out of the house!

You know the cutesy saying, "A place for everything and everything in its place"?  Life can be so much more smooth and peaceful if this is just a habit in your family.  If you have trouble adopting this in your own life, I hope that my advice will help you put this saying into practice.

Four Important Things:
1.  Group like items together.
Books on bookshelves, magazines in a rack or basket, media in one area, sewing supplies in a sewing basket, mending in a basket, medical supplies and medicines together, etc...  Use what logic makes most sense to you, but try to keep like things together so you are not running all over the house when you need to get some hydrogen peroxide, antibiotic ointment, and a bandaid for your child.  Sometimes it helps to stop and think it all through, "When I am doing x,y,z, what things do I always use?"

2.  Put these like items into practical storage.
It's ok to have some little used kitchen items in an out of the way closet, but with items you use regularly, store them near the place where they are used when at all possible.  (Example - store coffee making supplies near the coffee pot.  Put towels and toilet paper in or near the bathroom.  Keep cleaning supplies in each bathroom.)  When I say "practical storage", I mean in a place where they are easily accessible.

3.  Acquire any practical storage that you need if you don't have it already.
Each home will have different amenities when it comes to things like built in closets, shelving, and storage.  Use what you have first, and then look around at what you already have for storage - side tables, baskets, large tins and crocks, plastic bins, etc...  Keep an eye out at yard sales for pieces that will help ease your storage problems.  I have found wonderful plastic drawer systems, side tables, dressers, chairs, etc... at yard sales.  Ask around and get paper boxes from a friend that works in a school or an office.  These are wonderful for storing off season clothing in an attic or a dry basement.  And if you still have a need, work it out in your budget to get what you need to make things work - from small things like shoe shelves and hangars, to bigger things like dressers.  

4.  Make sure items are returned to their place when not in use.
And this one is a biggie.  Make it a habit to return things to their storage place.  And I mean actually in place, not just sort of close to where they belong.  Make it a part of your routine to have everyone in the family stop to do a pick up a couple of times a day.  (We do before Quiet Time and bedtime each day.)  Try to start noticing things - when you are heading to your basement to work on laundry or something, take an armload of things and return them to their place in the basement.  If you have multiple levels in your home, it can help to put a basket near each set of stairs where you place things that need to go up or down to get back to their place.  It saves you a few trips.

I think when any of those steps get left out, chaos starts to take over, so if you have chaos going on, try to pinpoint where things are breaking down.  It could be that you just need to acquire a few more laundry baskets and your life would go so much more smoothly.  Maybe you need to pare down the kids' toys?  Maybe you just need to take out all of the trash?

Got any tips for managing your stuff?  I love getting great ideas from readers!

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