Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Life Changing- Goal Setting Tips

Update: I apologize for the format errors. For some reason I've been struggling to get this post up correctly. I believe I now have everything set properly.

New Year. New goals. New dreams. New desires.

Do you get the urge this time of year to begin new habits or break old ones? I know I do. I get the same feeling at the turn of the year that I do when the school year begins: the opportunity for a fresh start. While most people make some sort of New Year's resolution, fewer people keep them for the intended length of time. What steps can we take now to prepare for successful change in 2014? Here are some tips and tricks to help you along the way.

See every excuse as a challenge

There are many things we make excuses over like not having time to exercise or read the Bible. Or being too busy to have family meals, game nights, or host others for dinner. Perhaps you're a night owl that is fatigued in the morning. So many things keep us from doing other things and we tend to make excuses. If there is anything that has empowered me this last year it has been to turn every excuse into a challenge to find a solution.

"I don't have time" becomes "Where can I make time"

"I don't have the money/resources to do this" becomes "How can I be creative and find a solution"

"I don't like that (or my family doesn't like that)" becomes "How can I make this enjoyable for us"

"I'm not a morning person" becomes "How can I retrain myself to get up a little earlier"

And so on. Make every excuse a starting point for finding a solution. You can only fail if you fail to try.

Get up early for Bible Study

I hear Christians say that one of their biggest wishes is to study the Bible more often. And this was my line as well for about 27 years! But as often as I hear this desire, I hear ten or more excuses as to why Bible study doesn't figure much (or at all) into their regular lives. I strongly believe the best time to study the Bible is first thing in the morning. That is the only time of day you can guarantee will not be filled. Trust me on this, waiting only leads to backlog. You never know if the boss is going to require you to work over lunch, or if your child will need extra help with homework. Some people claim that right before bed is a great time to study the Word, I know- I pretended it was for years. I have never heard an adult (especially a parent) say how awake and alert they are past 10! Let's face it, we all fall into bed exhausted with unchecked things on our to do list. Getting up to study first thing in the morning is like giving God our first fruits of the day; I have never heard anyone regret doing so. Here are some foolproof ways to develop the habit of getting up early enough to study the Bible first thing every day:
  • Know when your kids get up and plan to be up 20 minutes before that- or know how much time you need to be out the door for work and get up 20 minutes before then. Once this is a habit, consider increasing the time.

  • Do this every day of the week, not taking off Saturday or Sunday. This will help cement the schedule for your body- it’s always harder to get up the next day if you slept in the day before.

  • Have your Bible, study tools, pencils, and notebook already placed where you will study. 

  • Set your alarm, turn off the snooze option, and place your alarm far enough away from your bed that you must stand up to turn it off. 

  • Have a robe or sweatshirt ready by your alarm so you can snuggle in that for warmth instead of crawling back into the warm bed. 

  • Immediately head towards the coffee pot (or tea kettle, or your favorite water glass).

  • Turn on at least one light!  Candles are a favorite of mine.

  • Sit down and begin to study. 

  • If your mind wanders, grab your attention and place it back on your study (if you’re like me, repeat as necessary!).  Now, you can greet your day with God’s strength and joy in your heart!
A Good Day Starts the Night Before

I've read a lot about time management (nerd alert!). One of top tips everyone gives to help with time management is that in order to have a good day you must prepare the night before. I began following this advice, and whoa! Seriously, check out these ideas and begin adding them to your nightly routine:
  • Prepare your Bible study materials and set them out. 

  • Lay out your clothes; and your kids’ clothes if necessary 

  • Gather all those morning things (your kids’ backpacks, their lunches, your work report, etc.) so that you are not distracted the next morning thinking of things you need to have before you walk out the door.

  • Put some items in the car the night before. Like library books, the diaper bag, changes of clothes/sports bags and equipment, Bible for church, etc. Just don't lock yourself out of the house!

  • Set the coffee pot on a timer so it will be ready for you when you get up. 

  • Have the table set for breakfast and any non-perishables already out. Write down a verse or two by your kids’ plates so if you randomly have an early riser they can serve themselves and read the verse quietly without interrupting you. 

  • Set your alarm!

  • Just before going to sleep, pray and ask God to give you the strength to rise in the morning and get out of bed. 

  • Prepare your kids for your morning routine BEFORE your morning routine. Speak to your kids the night before and let them know that if they get up early they should help themselves quietly to breakfast and read their verse or Bible, but that they shouldn't disturb your Bible reading. Or have another solution ready.

  • If you truly have a hard time falling asleep pray about it. Ask God to give you wisdom to know what is keeping you awake.

  • Are you restless or have a hard time settling down? I have been falling asleep quicker and sleeping better since I began to daily exercise (see post here). Maybe you need some physical exertion added to your day? 

  • Perhaps it's pain of some kind? Pray, seek your husband’s blessing and ask God to direct you to the right Dr. and the right remedy. 

  • Maybe you need to invest in a different bed, or pillow? Adjust the temperature, add a white noise maker or noise reducer, play music on a sleep timer, and so on.

  • Seek natural remedies to help you sleep Warm tea, natural sleep aids, a warm bath, etc. 

  • Does your mind take a while to relax?  Practice getting in bed with paper and a calendar. Think through your day tomorrow and write down any notes/to do’s and mark up your calendar. Capture every thought and write it down so that your brain can release those thoughts. Pray briefly over that list and ask God to direct your day tomorrow.

  • Avoid intense/deep reading, playing computer games, browsing social media or watching television right before bed. These things activate the mind.

  • Keep the room as dark as possible, light stimulates your brain even if your eyes are closed. 
  • If your husband keeps different hours than you, then pray about speaking to him about it. After praying, approach your husband humbly and work out a solution together, and pray for extra strength & diligence through the transition. 
I have found tremendous success following these suggestions. My 2013 was phenominal because I implemented morning time with my Savior, added exercise, prepared better the night before, and found easy solutions to all my excuses. I pray your life is a little more organized and easier for adding some of these to your day!

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Heading into 2014, Healthy

Merry Christmas, everyone! Today is Christmas Eve and I hope you are all enjoying family and friends, as well as lots of delicious food! I know I will be.

Last week I described my system for Reading through the Bible in a Year, the EASY way. This was one of two 2013 goals I had. Yesterday, on December 23, 2013, I am excited to announce that I finished reading the entire Bible! Let me tell you, if you would like a rewarding 2014 goal, prayerfully consider choosing to read through the Bible. You will not be disappointed.

I created a tab (above) with the entire plan I followed all set up for you. Today, I'd like to give you a FREE printable copy of the same plan.

Here is a section of the reading plan

Bible in a Year plan

I designed this printable so you can put it in a 3-ring binder, or cut it down the middle for a half sized planner, like my own Day Runner. The design is also perfect for simply folding or cutting in half or quarters and using as a bookmark in your Bible. I do hope this inspires and encourages you to read through the Bible- if I can do it, you can too!

Speaking of the holidays and all of the yummy goodies that come with this time of year, I want to share what my other 2013 goal was: exercising. You can read about the beginning of my journey, back in February, here.

I have never been what you call, athletic. Sweat revolted me. I seriously thought there was something psychologically wrong with anyone who enjoyed running. It turns out I was really missing something wonderful: good health. My own words from back in February really sum things up:

This has always been a detestable subject for me; I hate movement of any kind. My idea of a good day involves the same spot on the couch (I am sitting in it now) and not moving from that spot unless I absolutely have to. But I know (we all know) the benefits of regular exercise and I was convicted to add this to my life. I am not aiming for a goal weight, looking for six-pack abs, or trying to fit into a specific pants size (although these secondary benefits are appealing!), my reasons are: health and longevity. I want more energy to play with my kids, more muscle strength for daily life, to make healthy food and portion size choices, to stabilize hormones, and to improve overall health.

So how did a former lazy-bones change her lifestyle? I just did it. I know it sounds like a non-answer, but this is the truth. I realized that I could make excuses, or I could see "excuses" as challenges to overcome. Instead of saying "I'm too busy" I said, "Where can I fit exercise into my busy schedule?" Rather than seeing my children as a reason I could not exercise, I asked myself "How can I entertain/distract my kids while I work out?" I did this little activity with every excuse I could come up with, including "I hate exercising" which became "I may hate it for 20 minutes, but I will love it the other 23 hours and 40 minutes of my day". Seeing each excuse as a challenge has been key to adding daily exercise to my life!

From January until about April or May of last year I spent 4-6 days a week using 20 minute videos to exercise at home. When the weather turned nicer, I began jogging outside- maybe I would make it a mile (start small). The point was that I was doing something. And it was changing my body (baby weight from two pregnancies anyone?), giving me more energy, and improving my mood. I really became hooked on exercise and enjoyed my 20-30 minutes each day!

When the summer reached higher temperatures, I stopped running in the mornings because even they were steamy. But because of the fresh air, I took the kids on a lot of walks in the double stroller for exercise (mine is the old model with one kid in front of the other, and let me tell you, pushing that thing is definitely a work out!) We don't have central air, so I stopped working out with videos. By the end of August, I was afraid I would stop exercising all together if I didn't get another plan of some kind. I talked with my husband and we were able to join our local YMCA in September.

Today, I'm at the point where I can enjoy an hour at the gym doing various cardio and strength training exercises. I know that's not for everyone, but for me it's a peaceful time by myself. It's clear to me, as well as friends and family, that I have lost weight, and that I do have more strength and stamina than ever before. I love this! Now I can run around with my kids and wear them out instead of the other way around. I'm no longer a couch potato that is always disgruntled. I have so much more energy and I can see an improvement in (oddly enough) my house cleaning this past year because I exercise. Now I'm one of the psychologically impaired running-types, and I love it!

Perhaps you would like to make exercise a 2014 goal? I would like to offer some of the tools that really helped me along this past year in hopes they'll encourage you as well.

Lose it! app
This app is a great way to ensure that you are eating well. I keep track of my exercises and food consumed each day. It helps me with long-termed goal tracking, and even stores my own frequently used recipes for logging purposes. You can also get accountability with this app by finding your friends. I'm awifenmother@gmail.com and I would be happy to go on this journey with you.

20 minute DVD's
Jillian Michaels is amazing in her 31 Day Shred video. You get an intense workout in only 20 minutes; as you read in my February post, this makes "I don't have time to exercise" obsolete. Win, win! There are a ton of 20 minute videos by other great instructors, in fact, please take a moment to mention your favorites in the comments section so we can help each other find great resources.

Exercise Tracker
I used various types of trackers for exercising, but I wished I'd had a simple calendar-type where I could check off the days I did exercise. Then I could see at a glance if I was slacking off one week, or if I was holding steady. Since I did not have a form to do this last year, I created my own for all of us to share.This tracker follows the 2014 calendar year. It's meant to be minimalist; merely mark the days you exercise so at a glance you can watch a habit form or continue. I did add a spot to track your weight because I know this can be a good tracker for many. Please just hear my heart when I say that meeting a popular or particular weight should not be your main goal. Rather fitness and consistency should be your aim. That said, many of us are shedding extra pounds, and it is valid to track weight loss. Again, I just love you and wish for you to maintain a healthy (not necessarily "skinny") body. I actually did not step on a scale once until about 4-5 months into exercising because weight loss was not my expectation, health was. Please take these words as my opinion and do what is best for you as approved by your doctor.

2014 Exercise Tracker Color
2014 Exercise Tracker B&W

Seriously, if anyone knows the proper way to post photos of documents, I'm all ears

I hope these tools give you a push towards better health in 2014. I probably won't be back until after the New Year, so God Bless and Happy Holidays!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Reading the Bible in a Year, the Easy Way

Do you like to make resolutions for the New Year? Is it a time for adding good habits, or dropping bad ones? Or both? I know in my younger years resolutions didn't seem to apply (when you're in high school what kinds of goals do you have- be less snarky to parents? Be kinder to siblings?). But now that I am a wife and mother, it seems like there is always room for improvement in my life! Last year it really struck me that I wanted to make some resolutions and try to seriously stick with them. I'd like to share them with you, now that the year is closing and I can give a full report. I'll spend the remainder of the year describing my 2013 goals and whether or not I accomplished them. I hope to inspire you to consider some goals for 2014 and perhaps through my story you can gain some ideas or tips to carry you through your own resolutions.

New Years Resolution #1

Goal: Read through the entire Bible in 2013

Have you ever tried to read through the entire Bible and given up mid-March? Or gotten stuck in Leviticus?  Many of us do. I trusted Jesus Christ for my salvation at a very young age- so let's say I've had at least two decades to read through the Bible. And I've never done it. I'm rather ashamed of that statistic. There are so many small obstacles that hinder this particular goal that I always seemed to get stuck on! I've tried daily reading plans, I've tried smartphone apps that send reminders each day, I've tried using a One Year Bible, but all of these wonderful aids did not keep me reading through the entire Bible. And I am not putting any of these methods down, they just did not work for me. If I got behind by even a single day, it seemed to wrinkle the entire plan until I was so far behind that I quit somewhere in 1 Samuel. But then, a year ago, I got an idea for 3 solutions that I thought might help me accomplish this goal in 2013.

Solution #1: Monthly rather than Daily reading goals. One of the small obstacles I faced every time I tried to read through the Bible was the demand placed on each day to finish a certain verse quota. I had so much momentum in January, but would force myself to stop after each day's readings. But if I missed even one day, I never could catch back up to the reading for the corresponding date. It was maddening! My idea a year ago was to have monthly goals instead. This way I could read as much or as little as I had time for each day. On days the kids slept in or I had more momentum, I could read more chapters. Some days did not allow me to read more than a chapter or two. I admit, a couple times I finished my monthly reading a few days into the next month. But that never set me back like daily reading did,  because I had an entire month to finish the new goal. I was able to take a break if I needed to, without falling behind since I had a month to make each goal. This has carried me through until today as I'm cruising through the Minor Prophets and will finish the Bible on schedule by December 31!

Solution #2: Begin in the New Testament rather than the Old Testament. Let's just say it, the Old Testament is harder to read through than the New Testament (please don't confuse this statement as me suggesting that the OT is not as relevant or important as the NT. On the contrary, "all Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work." 2 Timothy 3:16-17). But it is a little harder to read through the OT. So, my second solution was to save the OT for last. I began reading in Matthew instead of Genesis, gaining ground by reading the shorter New Testament first. This was a great solution, by March 2013 I finished the New Testament! That gave me a huge push to make it through Leviticus (not as dry as you first think, by the way), Numbers, and Deuteronomy. And by that point I was already six months into reading through the Bible and had developed the habit. No quitting now!

Solution #3: Read it straight through rather than jump around. In my experience, most reading plans or one year Bibles take a selection from several books of the Bible for each day. Perhaps the idea is to keep us from getting stuck in the Major Prophets or something? (And again, if these work for you I am so happy. I just could not make them work for me, so please do not think I have it in for any of these methods). But for me it meant there was no context or continuity to what I read. I did not remember a thing, I did not learn anything, I felt I barely got into the Old Testament reading and then I was thrust into a New Testament passage, then tossed over to Psalms, and back and forth again (my pulse is actually racing right now as I remember my years of frustration about this). I believe that reading the Bible is not something to simply check off my to-do list. I want my life to change because I learn more about God from reading His words. I think the best way to do that is by reading the Bible straight through, like a novel and not a text book. Instead of jumping around, I read each book straight through as I came to it. I stuck to one book at a time, from Matthew- Revelation, then Genesis-Malachi.

With these three steps in place, I began 2013 reading Matthew. I am excited to say that this method has brought me all the way to the end! In a few short days, I will make it to Malachi and have completely read the entire Bible in the year 2013. And guess what, I loved every minute of it (especially, those "hard" books I was afraid of before)! Because I was getting the big picture of each book by reading it without jumping around, I can see the timeline of Biblical events like never before. Reading "scary" books like Ezekiel, Revelation, or Numbers was actually fun and I saw all the really great truths that I didn't know were there. Basically, I see the hand of God and the importance of every verse in the Bible now. And I wouldn't trade that for anything.

I truly think this is the easiest way to read through the Bible. So much so, that I put together the entire reading plan for you! You can find the Bible In A Year tab at the top of my home page connecting you to the plan. I would like to also make a printable version for you before the New Year arrives- which I will do my best to fulfill. So stay tuned for that.

So, does this inspire you to try reading through the Bible in 2014?

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Menu Planning Made Easy!

We've all heard that meal planning saves money, and having a plan for each meal and stocked larders saves time and sanity, right?

But meal planning can be tiresome. Or time consuming, or downright dreadful. After five years of running a home, I've tried many different ways to plan. I've used Pinterest, collected cookbooks, borrowed ideas from other people, carried over meals from my childhood, and tried new recipes. While it is fun to look through recipes (for me anyway) it took a long time to decide on my two week menu. In the end, it got finished, but I have always wished to take some of the time and headache out of the chore. Perhaps you're in a similar boat?

I finally think I have discovered a quick & easy method for making a menu plan and grocery list!

Step One: Print out a free Monthly Meal Planning template 

Monthly Meal Planning Template- Mine is filled in
Blank Colorful Monthly Meal Plan

I created this FREE template to be a half page so it will fit it in a regular binder with room at the bottom for notes, or in a half binder like a Filofax. Mine- pictured above- is a Day Runner I found at Walmart (I love it so much!). I simply folded the page back so I have room to take notes on the back if I want. 

Step Two: Fill in the template

This is the time consuming part- but you only have to do this once (for life if you want)! Simply fill in 35 of your families favorite dinners in the template. Think of this table as a monthly calendar, each row representing a week. By having a fifth week on your menu, you make sure to have enough meals for those months with more weeks and you never repeat a meal in the same month. 

Tip: Take into consideration your family's schedule when planning. For instance, we go to church every Sunday and I put dinner in the slow cooker before we leave, so my entire red column (representing Sundays) are all slow cooker recipes. If you know there is a day each week where you need a quick meal (that's Wednesday for us), make sure 5 of your meal options are those quick & easy meals.

Step Three: Gather all 35 recipes in one place

Now, I love technology, but when I'm in the kitchen making a recipe, I get a little nervous having my smartphone or tablet near boiling water, vegetable peels, and flour covered surfaces. If you're the same way, you may want to write or type all 35 of your recipes and have them together in one spot. Even if you have made the recipe many times before I'd recommend writing down the recipe for two reasons:

1) Fast & Thorough list making: if the ingredients are written down it's quicker to make up your grocery list. More times than I care to admit, I've forgotten one or more ingredients simply because I made my list from memory and forgot to write them down. This ensures that everything makes it on the grocery list!

2) Substitute Chef: I just spent four days laying down because I was so sick I couldn't even sit for ten minutes. It would have helped if I had all the ingredients and the recipes for my menu printed and gathered so that my husband could have made dinner for himself and the kids. Instead, they ate peanut butter sandwiches for four days because my darling hubby had no idea what I had in the pantry (and I couldn't think straight long enough to tell him). Enough said.

Here, I created a simple Word document and typed all of the recipes from my Monthly Menu Plan. Now, all 35 of my meals on in my Day Runner, right after my Monthly Menu Plan. Happy.

Recipes Listed

My recipes are full sheets, so in order to fit them in my half-binder Day Runner I punched holes in the top, then folded them under- just until they touched the rings. This way I can fold the page out and see the whole sheet if necessary.

See- fold out
While I do carry my Day Runner & Menu with me everywhere I go as well as have it nearby at home, it can be helpful to have the week's menu posted somewhere prominent for all to see (anyone else's husband ask you all the time what you are having for dinner?) I've created another fun FREE printable for you for just such a purpose:

This is a lame screenshot from my phone so you can see the layout
You are welcome to print out as many of my FREE printables as you wish for personal use. If you mention them in your blog please link back here, thank you so much!

This is a great sheet to fill out each week (just fill it out, remember, all the hard thinking has been done already) and post on the refrigerator. Every night I check this and look to see if I need to get any items out of the freezer. And every morning I can see if I need to start dinner in the slow cooker. Done and done!

If you've gone through these organizing steps, you may have just cut out several hours per week from menu planning. Now, all you need to do on menu planning day:

1) Find the corresponding week
2) Copy all ingredients (from 35 previously gathered recipes) onto Weekly Menu Plan sheet and your shopping list
3) and shop- you're done!

I've been honing this system for over a month now and I cannot believe how easy this is! I kinda hope that you've all figured this out already and my post is irrelevant and you've been saving yourself from menu planning headaches all this time. But, here it is, just in case this has slipped by someone out there other than me (please tell me I'm not the only one).

I hope this gives you with more time with your family and doing things you enjoy by saving you time each week preparing menus. 

By the way, I love collecting recipes (to swap one out from time to time) so please feel free to leave your favorite in the comments section! 

Bon appetit!

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

The Big Reveal! Our Homeschool Curriculum

I kept promising to post about our current preschool curriculum. Little did I know how hard it would be to write this post! I struggle between giving too much information or too little. I do not want to sound like a salesman, but I want to include the highlights of the book we are using. So here is my weak best attempt at describing WHAT we are using and HOW we are using it.

Answers for Preschoolers

Evan, our oldest, is 3 years old, and Reese is turning 2 this week. So, obviously our kids are very young. Our personal philosophy regarding our kids and preschool age learning is that they don't NEED any formal education yet. They are kids, we mainly let them play and learn by experience. I involve them in cleaning house, cooking and baking  [sometimes] , taking walks & wagon rides, playing with educational toys, and reading aloud to them. Life stuff. But (could you feel that "but" coming?) we do believe there is no time like the present to teach them. Their little minds are like sponges, so why not gently teach basic things? That is why this we picked this curriculum, because it fit our ideas so well. (By the way, we focus on the 3 year old; our younger child is just so close in age that she gleans a lot from what we do and whenever she wants to I let her participate).

The introduction (pg. 7) to the curriculum describes it's format this way:

"Answers for Preschoolers is based upon the most perfect source available, the Bible. You and your students will be studying the world around you from the viewpoint of the Creator. Lessons begin with a Bible concept and flow into activities and academic subjects..."

What we want most for our children is a Biblical foundation. We desire the Bible to be central to our children's life, not simply a subject to study. In our kids' early years we see the Bible as being the main source of learning, with other subjects flowing naturally from there. Answers for Preschoolers has that same viewpoint and designed their method in this way.

Each day begins with reading directly from the Bible. Then, the Teacher's Guide gives direction for discussing the passage through visual aids or object lessons, which flows into the rest of the day's subjects. For example: Lesson 1 begins with Genesis 1:1 and the topic that God was alive before all things, even time. This turns into talking about God as our father (a relational being that created/provided for us), leading into Social Studies and how we all have earthly fathers. Next you can do Language Arts and look through magazines finding pictures of families with a father, which turns into Arts & Crafts because you can cut out and paste the father pictures onto a poster, and so on.

Here are some of my favorite things about this curriculum (in no particular order):

  • Includes all subjects: social studies, science, language arts, phonics, reading, writing, memory verse, math, shapes, colors, story time, music, arts & crafts, physical education, outdoor activities, creative cooking, health & safety, and even field trip suggestions
  • includes resource packet (visual aids, flashcards, puzzle templates)
  • includes music CD
  • designed by educators with 3's & 4's in mind
  • adaptable for daycare, preschool classroom, or homeschool (so it's easy to adjust for including both of my children)
  • the content is arranged so we can have 3 days or 5 days a week lesson plans (they only introduce new concepts on 3 of the days)
  • there are enough activities to do an all-day schedule! (although, right now we only see a need for a few subjects and probably "do school" for about an hour)
  • there are 45 pages of introduction, suggestions on how to use the book, a resource list, a book list, the memory verse list, song lyrics, and several supplemental material lists to help prepare to teach

When I Lesson Plan, I simply use a highlighter in the Teacher's Guide to mark which activities I choose to do each day. I detailed how I lesson plan here and have a free printable (select the tab at the top). My son is more of an activity learner versus a craft learner. So I often select subjects related to movement or visual aids instead of cutting, pasting, and coloring. We use the Student Workbook pages that go with the activities I select. Rarely do we spend more that 45-60 minutes doing homeschool each day. Only when my son is really enjoying an activity or craft do I just let him linger on, I never plan to fill more time than that at this early stage in his life.

So that's it! There, in a nut shell, is our homeschool curriculum. We are really happy with it; my kids enjoy the material and activities, and it's easy to use from an administrative angle. If you're on the hunt for a preschool curriculum, I highly recommend Answers for Preschoolers!

And I will never again post about homeschool curriculum because it is way too hard!

OK, that's probably  not true, but it felt good to say.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Thanksgiving, Shrimp, Christmas, and a Disaster- Oh my!

When Justin and I wed, we adopted the common practice of trading off holidays between our families. One year we spend Thanksgiving with His and Christmas with Mine, the next year we swap, and so on. According to pattern, last week we spent Thanksgiving with my out-of-state parents. My brother and his wife, niece, sister, and grandparents got to join us for the festivities as well.

To fit both holidays into the same week- around my brother's work schedule- we did Thanksgiving on Tuesday and Christmas on Thursday. I have no pictures of our Thanksgiving feast, probably because I spent three days of vacation with a terrible cold. I think I slept most of those first few days, including "Thanksgiving". But if you can imagine a turkey and mashed potatoes, then you get an idea of the table, wink.

We pretended Thursday was Christmas (Turkey day for you all which was very confusing on social media, let me tell you!)

By the way, you can follow me as awifenmother on Twitter and Instagram.

The cousins; this is as good as it gets with 3 children 3 and under!

Evan tearing into a gift

Reese wearing her new headband, with Grandpa helping with a gift 
I was thrilled they got into the unwrapping this year
We ladies debated whether we could/should do two large feasts in one week since were celebrating Thanksgiving and Christmas. In the end, my mom had a great idea for "Christmas" dinner that was fun and unique: a shrimp boil. Basically you dump all the ingredients in a large pot, boil, and serve on the table. Yes, it was a little far from traditional, but we had just eaten turkey two days before :)

Shrimp Boil- it was REALLY good!

Cousins playing memory match. Only one of them really understood the game;
I'm ashamed to admit it was my niece and not my kids, hehe

One of the best moments of my week- sleeping toddler! This never happens.

Grandma snuggles & parade

Oh yeah, this happened. Can you tell what that smashed-to-bits thing is? It was our TV. My husband and I were rearranging furniture and I may have let my side slip (there is no way to grip those things!). The bright side is that our TV was roughly 1,000 technology years old (approximately 20 human years), so it was way past its prime anyway. This happened the day before we left for vacation. Go me.

I enjoyed my family and vacation so much. Even if I was sick, I did get a lot of rest and relaxation. I love the holidays! I hope your Thanksgiving celebrations were a delight as well!

Monday, November 25, 2013

Back Home in Indiana

Part of married life is juggling family at holidays. We follow a common practice by switching who we visit for Thanksgiving and Christmas every year. This year, my side gets Thanksgiving and my husband's side get Christmas; next year we swap. 

Here's a peek at our visit so far:

The kids got out the hats and passed them around. My brother is not really that silly. 

Enjoy family this week! I am so thankful for all of mine!

Friday, November 22, 2013

Homeschool Organization Project (with a FREE printable)

I could not drag myself out of bed when my alarm went off this morning. Instead I snoozed it for an hour (just being real here). But I have an excuse; my throat is soar and scratchy, my sinuses are clogged, and my eyes are twice as heavy as normal- I've got a cold. I've had a cold since Tuesday evening, so I've been laying low this week at home with the kids. All of this time to sit and suffer gave me a chance to update my homeschooling "system" which has been in desperate need of an overhaul.

I spent most of August trying to find a lesson planning system that worked with our preschool curriculum and my style. In vain I searched planners online and in stores. I tried an app on my tablet. None of them were what I was looking for. So I even tried making my own. When I realized how much I hated all of those, I took a normal day planner and tried to turn that into lesson plans. That worked for a while until I realized I just did not need that much "planning".

Now, my number 1 planning tool is a highlighter.

I use a highlighter to mark the activities I want to do each day directly in the teacher's book (and I might also color a supply or preparation step I need to set up ahead of time). It seems so simple, too simple, and yet this is all I need to propel me through the day's work.

Here is an example from my teacher's book; so simple it's almost silly

Now that I have that basic step accomplished, I wanted to better organize my Paper. This includes filing Evan's completed work, my notes, attendance records (more for me to see how much- or how little- school we are doing each month), visual aids, really any papers associated with our homeschool lessons. Today I pulled all of these together in a 3-ring binder and in an accordion file organizer.

I have all of the visual aids from our curriculum (you can see which curriculum we're using here, and I do promise to talk about it soon, we love it!) stored by theme in this filer. Now I only need to open to the relevant category- say letters- and select the poster/visual aid I want.

Since I sent the "official" planners packing and am now using the highlighting method, I needed a simple monthly calendar to record our attendance and lessons completed so I can track where we are. I quickly sat down and created my own calendar with just enough space to jot down the lesson number completed each day.

Because I love FREE printables, I want to make this calendar available to you! (I spent two days researching how to attach this and so I hope the link below works, here goes nothing)

You may print as many copies as you wish for personal use, but if you share it, please link directly to my site.

Two Per Page Monthly School Attendance Tracker

Here is a quick glance at the remaining pages of my teacher binder:

Upcoming Work Pages

Here I've already selected the pages from Evan's student book that I wish to use in upcoming lessons. I'll probably do a few days to a week ahead for this.

Daily Visual Aids
This tab has the current, daily used visual aids kept in page protectors.

Completed work
The last tab houses Evan's completed worksheets.  I at least want to keep some of the work for the year to compare how far he has progressed as a gauge for me as his teacher.

And with those two filing tools, I feel more organized and better able to prepare our lessons. Planning and organizing is certainly half of the battle, I think, for homeschool mom's everywhere! I hope this inspires you to tackle some of your paper and find the perfect system for you. I'd love to hear your ideas- please feel free to comment or link to your blog below.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Marshmallow Painting

Autumn, my favorite season. So bright, so colorful, so easy to do crafts around that theme! Evan received paint and a pad of large paper for his birthday and I've been dying to really use them. We had fun with this craft, especially because Grandma Deb arrived minutes before we sat down to paint.

Supplies needed: white paper; red, yellow, green & brown paint; paint tray; paint brushes;
marshmallows (not pictured); paint cover-up shirts or aprons

If you do not have brown paint, mix your own (it was harder than I remember from kindergarten) 

If you have younger kids, you may wish to prepare the tree trunk ahead of time. I did mine while my kids napped so that it had time to dry. I realized later how smart that was because when they did the leaves, the brown did not mix with the other colors.

No need to be perfect (clearly). A simple tree with ample branches is fine.

Hand them a marshmallow and let them go to town. I wanted Evan to follow my instructions (practice in listening and obedience/following instructions) by stamping only and not smearing the paint around. But with Reese being only 23 months, I just let her freestyle.

Not seen in the pictures above is Grandma Deb who arrived just as we were sitting down to paint. It was nice to have an extra pair of hands for this messy craft!

One last tip, I turned their trees upside-down so they didn't have to reach as far to put leaves at the top of the tree. This worked great! If you use a huge piece of paper like we did you may want to do the same?

Leaf crafts are common this time of year, probably because they work as an avenue to teach so many things:

1. Colors: you can practice the basic colors or  introduced mixing two colors to make a third. We did this with red and yellow making orange. I waited to prepare the colors until they were at the table, and I took advantage of needing to mix our own colors to show Evan how it worked. By the way, I learned the hard way that you need waaaaaay more yellow than red to make orange.
2. Seasons: review time, the seasons, the month, etc
3. God's faithfulness: every year we know God keeps the seasons in their time. Ecclesiastes 3 and Jeremiah 5 both have verses that mention God's power and control of the seasons*.
4. Counting: Keep track of the leaves, for older kids, make a graph after painting to document the number of red leaves vs the green and yellow and so on
5. Shapes: If you use a stamp (in our case a marshmallow) then review the shape
6. Patterns & Active Listening: Tell your student which order to a series of colors, or one at a time direct him on the next color, adjust for age appropriateness

And now I have two beautiful paintings to decorate my walls!

*I believe we should always read the Bible in their greater context. However, I think this is one of the few exceptions because these verses clearly mention God's power over creation. Even though these short phrases occur in the middle of a larger context, I am not changing the meaning of that larger context of scripture by only pointing out the part about God's power. 

Monday, November 18, 2013

Detroit Tigers Themed Baby Shower

So far in life I have two children, and 3 nieces. My poor son, Evan, is the only boy among all these ladies- until my first nephew arrives, that is! We cannot wait to welcome Baby Jackson into the world in the next few months. This is my SIL's first baby, so the family got to throw a baby shower for her!

Their nursery theme is Detroit Tigers, and my SIL asked that the baby shower theme follow along. We Michiganders were happy to oblige.

This is great-grandma and grandma to baby Jackson; we were co-hosts for this event.

This was a cute cake, check it out:

Some simple BBQ pork and chicken, with salads made up the menu.

I was in charge of the centerpieces, which you can almost see in the poorly taken photograph below (you probably wouldn't believe that I was a video major in college)

Piece number 1 is a small glass bowl and white candle (both 4 for $1 at the dollar store) atop a foam baseball "coaster". The foam baseballs I found at Hobby Lobby, 10 in a pack for $2.99 I believe it was?

These were simple cylinder vases from the dollar store filled with peanuts. I wrapped blue streamer paper (left-over from my son's 1st birthday party two years ago!) around the top to give it a pop of color, and used twine to add the bow.

I made banners that I stuck in these peanut vases, but none of my picture from the shower turned out well enough to see them and just now when I looked, I couldn't find them- I'm guessing some of the little girls from the shower gave them a good home.

My MIL had already gotten these orange flowers to match the orange table cloths she picked out. So all I had to do was make them work. I bought shapely vases from the dollar store, filled the bottom with peanuts (more for weight and to hold the flowers than for decoration, but it works) and the blue is the same streamer paper all cut up into shreds.

You can find my inspiration for all of these on my Pinterest board "Party Time". There are always a dozen more ideas I wish I could incorporate in things, but I've learned the best thing is to take a few ideas and run with them. I am first a wife, then a mother, and after those roles are fulfilled do I allot my time for other things. So, if you have an upcoming party or event you're helping plan, here is the advice I follow and therefore offer to you.

1. Establish your budget. Be realistic, and within your means. Speak to your husband first and get his input about how much you can put towards this event. And. never. ever. spend. more. than. your. budget.

2.  Get ideas. This is fun, but don't get carried away- remember The Budget. Use this time to find many different ideas. Look at tutorials to see if you can make decorations yourself to save money. Also, try to find items around your house to bring in for decoration. This includes craft supplies as well as items (e.g. don't go buy baseballs for a sports theme without raiding your husbands stash of sports equipment first, you get the idea)

3. Set a timeline. Finalize the party date and work backwards from there. Make sure if you're hand making any items to give yourself plenty of time to do them. Try calling ahead to stores to see if they have items you know you're going to buy to make sure they have enough in stock. My MIL and I went shopping for the Detroit plates and the store only had one package. We tried several stores for more before we found an alternative plate because no one had the ones we originally liked. A phone call could have saved us some leg work (and gas money!) And remember, as moms (if applicable), we have to plan time to do this around our kids' schedules. A friend volunteered to watch my kids so I could efficiently run errands (thank you Denise!). Another day, I waited for my kids' nap time and then crafted like crazy to get the centerpieces finished before they woke up.

4. Have fun. You can see that I am no Martha Stewart, and that is OK. Don't worry about perfection, and don't try to do something you cannot. Keep expectations real and you'll have fun!

Have you put on any parties? I'd love to see photos of what you did!

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Thanksgiving Lessons for 2's & 3's

Last year at this time I was making up my own "homeschool" activities to do a couple days a week with our oldest, Evan. He was 2 1/2 at the time. This year we are following a preschool curriculum, which we love! (I promise to post on what curriculum I'm using and how I'm using it in a post all it's own.) But I'm considering taking a break from the curriculum and spending the week leading up to Thanksgiving doing similar activities from last year. I had a blast this morning as I went down memory lane and reviewed the activities, Bible verses, and songs we covered way back a year ago. Check out this little guy (he looks so small!)

We focused on learning and activities centered around a Thankfulness Tree. They are easy to make and have dozens of variation options (seriously, if you want to lose four hours of your day, just head over to Pinterest and search "thanksgiving tree" and browse the variations). Here's our finished tree from last year:

And this year it would be so fun to include my almost-two-years-old, Reese. So if you'd like to implement Thanksgiving themed activities into your child's day, here are quick links to last year's posts.

Thanksgiving Day 1
Thanksgiving Day 2
Thanksgiving Day 3
Thanksgiving Day 4
Thanksgiving Day 5
Thanksgiving Day 6

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

A Quick Closet Tidy-up

Got 30 minutes? That's all you need for a closet tidy-up like this. Yesterday I was feeling unproductive and I've been meaning to adjust our master closet situation a little since I've recently put all of our shoes up there. So I decided to do a quick organizing project, here's the before:

You can see a small mound of shoes, two gym bags, and 3 purses on the floor, plus my wedding gown bag hanging inside the door (which does not allow the door to close). And yes, that small, little space is shared by both my husband and myself. Let the record show that he has more hanging clothes than I- probably because he's a pastor and wears a shirt and tie every week. As you can see, this system does not leave room for our laundry hamper.

First I pulled out everything from the floor and got it out of the way. Then I took down my dress bag so I could access the closet better. I added a small shelf to the back of our closet that I already had in another area of the house. It is similar to this one:

I just did a simple search on Amazon for "metal shelf" and this popped up. Mine has only three shelves. 

This allowed me to stack our shoes on the bottom two shelves. Next, I stashed my purses on the top shelf (which in the after picture is hidden behind the hanging clothes). I tucked the two gym bags on the left side of the shelf, on the floor so we can still grab them easily, but they'll stay put until we do. This left plenty of room for me to place our laundry hamper inside the door, which keeps the rest of the room tidy. And no more wedding dress obscuring half the doorway.

And that's it! A simple, no hassle, tidy-up project that organizes things more efficiently. Better organization equals a better clean-up system.

I'd love to see your organization BEFORE and AFTER photos. Feel free to leave a link in the comments.

Monday, November 11, 2013

When Your Ducks get Kicked out of Their Row

This morning began well. I rose before the children, made my coffee, and settled in for Bible study and prayer. Breakfast went well. The kids were in relatively pleasant moods. I had a general idea of where my day needed to go. My ducks were in a row.

And then... the dreaded AND THEN...

Perhaps I am not the only one to begin the day with one plan, and somewhere after I've settled on that plan, things go awry. I've learned that there are three duck-movers in life that tend to mess up my plans...

A Bad Plan This plan goes down simply because it is poorly formed, or not formed at all. A badly planned day means I'm running errands when I should be prepping dinner, and now I'm stressed and my toddlers are hungry and crabby. Another way I hurt myself with bad planning is not leaving enough time to get us out of the house. This brings out Screaming Momma who gets a migraine repeating to Toddler A that he needs to sit down! while Toddler B wants to buckle her own car seat and it takes 5 minutes- and the only reason Momma is letting Toddler B buckle herself anyway is because the meltdown is too sad to handle (not that this has happened to me or anything, this is purely hypothetical). If I had just planned for 5 more minutes in my leaving-time then I could be a "yes" mom and allow my daughter to buckle herself and we'd both be happy. And on time.

If those pesky ducks get out of order and it's not because of poor planning, it might be because of...

Predictable Externals If you have children (or a pet, or a husband) there are many little things that shove those ducks aside. These predictable things might be tantrums, burnt dinner, or missing ingredients for dinner, a phone call that goes longer than you meant, a school work meltdown, a spilled drink, an extra long or extra short nap, hubby late for dinner, and so on. Things that are a part of life but not always a part of every day. A lot of these examples are "small things" that with a little creativity, patience, and discipline, I can often recapture the plan and line those ducks back up (sans a couple missing feathers). I keep trying to remember that these are the teachable moments, the times where I bond even more with my kids and husband, and develop godly character in my life.

But then there are...

Unpredictable Externals And here is where my story continues. We dropped my husband's car off at the shop on Saturday; it was ready last night but we forgot to go pick it up. This morning, I desperately need to go grocery shopping. I know that when we run out of peanut butter, we're past due! I was just about to get ready to go, when we remembered that we were a one car household at the moment. That was unpredictable external number 1. Okay, I simply reverted to Plan B: I decided we could make it on the few things I had left in the house (instant pancake mix, anyone?) until tomorrow. So now hubby was getting ready to leave for the day when unpredictable external number 2 hit, the power went out. I heard our entire neighborhood was without power for a couple of hours. You cannot open the refrigerator, use the microwave, or cook when you don't have electricity. Our dilemma was, if my husband left with our only vehicle, I couldn't even run out for fast food with my kids (it was near lunch time and we had no clue how long the power would be off). And there before my eyes my little ducks ran around- out of order, and out of control- while I quickly came up with a Plan C.

There really is no way to plan for everything, but I have learned that I can plan to be flexible. In this way, I am honoring God with more patience. Another way to survive crooked-line-ducks is to find humor or at least joy in every situation. Things went badly for me today, and I got nothing I wanted accomplished, but it snowed! And for me, that is a huge joy!

So find those gems hidden in every situation and dwell on those, because no matter how much you yell at those ducks, they do not line up in response. I would know, I've tried.

My kids and I ended up driving hubby to work (he's a pastor) and then raiding his stash of sandwich supplies for PB&J. We also got to play with the nursery toys, which are fresher than our own, so therefore more fun!

Stick with it Momma's, your ducks are not the most important thing in your life, your family is. And I know you're doing a great job!