Wednesday, December 25, 2013

A Few of My Favorite Things

I love a good deal!  A good deal to me is a quality product at a great price.  Free is awesome, too!  So, I thought I'd share with you some online resources that keep me coming back for more.  Take a look.  There may be something here for you.  If you have a resource you love I'd love for you to share it in the comments.  I'm always looking for something new.  Here are a few of my favorite things in no particular order:

Pout in Pink
- A Unique Boutique and Party Center

PIP is a relatively new discovery for me, and I love it!  We've got one little female in the house that benefits from my new discovery, and with the new PIP Tween line, our older female will certainly end up with an item or two for her girly self.  With my Michigan location, and their only storefronts being located in Arizona, Texas, and Minnesota, I am strictly an online customer.  They have always been kind and quick with online support.  Our little diva will get her first clothing item from PIP for Christmas, so you'll have to wait for pictures.  My favorite thing about the site is there is a nice clearance section.  You know that's always the first place I look!

Free Homeschool Deals
- Affording the Homeschool Life

This is by far my favorite homeschool resource site.  There is always an abundance of free Kindle books, and I LOVE that!  Jamerill has her site packed with resources.  Like I said before, free is awesome, and this site is LOADED with free resources for the homeschooling family.  It's a treasure trove of information just waiting to be utilized.  You will find coupons, apps, free downloads, inspiration, and more.  I am always excited to see Free Homeschool Deals come through my feed on Facebook.  It's a rare occasion that I don't click through and at least download a book or ten.


If you're a shopaholic you may want to avoid this site.  It's amazing!  I did a lot of my Christmas shopping for the kids here this year, but there is something here for everyone, and it changes ALL THE TIME.  Zulily is like an online outlet mall with all high quality items at nicely discounted prices, and sometimes there's even free shipping.  Bonus!  When you poke around the site you will find everything from kids' shoes to housewares to men's clothing to supplements to jewelry to handbags and sunglasses.  You can search the site by product, category, or size, and you can earn money by inviting friends.  This is one of the first places I look when I need a quality gift.


I love to take pictures, and the world of photo editing is rather new and exciting to me.  I am by no means a professional, but I do enjoy taking pictures.  PicMonkey makes it a whole lot more fun.  This is an online, FREE, photo editing site.  It is very simple to use.  You simply download your picture directly to the site and begin editing immediately.  PicMonkey does not store your pictures, but it is a breeze to share them instantly to social media and save them to your computer.  I have made some awesome gifts with this tool, and there is even a reasonably priced upgrade should you desire to have full access to all of the available actions.

You Version

What better way to start your day than with Bible study?  My favorite resource for this is You Version.  I have this app on my Kindle, my Smart Phone, and my laptop.  It's awesome because I can sign up for various studies, and it will keep track of my progress, allow me to catch up if I miss a day or three, and send me reminders if I want it to.  I can enjoy multiple study topics at once all in one convenient, easy to use location.  You Version makes my morning study a simple possibility when life gets hectic.

Bible App for Kids

The Bible App for Kids is a new resource recently put out by You Version.  My kids ages three to eight LOVE it!  It's like an animated story book that teaches children about the bible.  I hear my eight year old talking to friends about it and comparing how far they've gotten, and my three year old regularly asks to play her "Jesus story" on my Kindle.  It is FREE for Android.  Kids are sure to enjoy the bible stories, games, and activities.


Our favorite kid app of all time is Zoodles.  My kids, especially the younger two, LOVE this app.  They play it on my Kindle.  It's awesome because it can be completely customized for each child.  There is a paid upgrade, but we've never felt the need to purchase it for our family.  The free option is amazing all on its own.  You get age appropriate content, regular email updates, and loads of control.

Empowering Parents

This is a wonderful parenting resource.  My favorite thing about Empowering Parents is the search option on the site.  You can actually search the site for your particular parenting issue and find articles to search relevant to the issue you are trying to learn about.  I love that!  This is a wonderful resource for parents of children of all ages.

Homestead Survival

Are you interested in learning more about sustainable living, or are you a homesteader wannabe?  I am in the process of taking baby steps in this direction.  Homestead Survival is like an encyclopedia on the topics.  Here you will find interesting resources on a plethora of subjects all related to homesteading and survival.  The content is updated regularly and is always fresh.  There is SO MUCH to learn here!

I hope you enjoy poking around these sites and that you'll find something here of lasting value.  I love sharing resources, especially those of great value, and I hope you share some of your favorite things with me.



The Zoo Crew

Saturday, December 14, 2013 Review

My first assignment as I put my product reviewer hat back on this month was to review an amazing online resource. is a treasure trove of academia that offers new discoveries and adventures to be had each and every day.  The Yearly Membership Option offers a frugal homeschooler the ultimate in valuable resources. provides everything for teaching subjects from art to science and all interests in between.  New learning opportunities are added on a daily basis keeping the content fresh and interesting.  A printable spreadsheet is available to help you keep track of the courses available and track your progress.  There are even printables that you can use to record the skills covered by each student each month.  Plenty of extras are available as well.  Things like back issues of the TOS Magazine, Schoolhouse Planners for all levels of education, bonus weekly e-books, and various other supplements are all available to enhance your homeschooling experience.

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Our family is completely enjoying the "electives" available through  We already had plans to incorporate photography into our homeschool, but we hadn't quite gotten around to it.  Harmony, early elementary level, was thrilled to learn that a complete Photography course appropriate for all ages is available through our membership.  I was happy to have the complete course planned and laid out for me.  All I had to do was familiarize myself with the lesson plan and explain the assignment.  Awesome!

Harmony also LOVES to sing, so we are also currently having fun with the Music/Voice course.  With Christmas right around the corner, I chose the Christmas Changes lesson.  The goal of the three-week lesson fit right in with our current curriculum.  It challenges us to consider how it is we think about things and how our perceptions can change the way we view ourselves and the world around us.  We are enjoying the story of Joseph Mohr and the history of the cherished Christmas carol "Silent Night, Holy Night".  I think my favorite thing about the Music/Voice course is that it is designed with the 'Whole Family is The Student' approach.  Very fun!

With the plethora of options available on we are looking forward to exploring many more subjects together as a family.  I chose to focus my energy on the early elementary level.  In the future I will be exploring more with our two resident preschoolers as well.  It will be a long time before we hit high school level again in our home, but there is plenty of content there for middle school and high school levels as well.  Actually, there are resources available to all age groups, even adult.  I plan to explore the Family Nutrition course myself sharing with the family as I learn along the way.

Academics aside, offers many other free resources and extras.  My current favorite is AppleCore, an online record keeping and course tracking system.  Currently, our family is using a different system, but I plan to switch fully to this one when we change to the next level of curriculum in the spring.  It is VERY user friendly and super simple to set up.  Record keeping has always been a challenge for me.  This system will keep everything organized and right at my fingertips.  Love it!

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If you'd like to try before you buy, and see how your family can benefit from, a one month subscription may be purchased for a mere $3!  Once you've had the opportunity to explore the website and discover all the amazing content for yourself the investment is minimal.  For just $12.95 per month, or 10% off at $139 for the entire year, your whole family will have access to an abundance of lesson plans, e-books, planners, and loads of other learning materials providing a complete homeschool experience or richly enhancing what you are already doing within your home.  The application possibilities are endless. is sure to be a valued resource in our homeschool for years to come.

Click to read Crew Reviews
Crew Disclaimer

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

4-H Snowman Craft

We made the cutest snowmen at 4-H this week!

It was a rather simple craft, but I was having an off day.  It took me a little change in strategy, but eventually I got it.  Thankfully the club volunteers are kind, friendly, and super helpful.  Making crafts with toddlers that are intended for grade school children can pose a bit of a challenge.  Especially when you are helping two toddlers and one grade school child!

There are some great ideas for applying the same technique on various designs over at SL by Stephanie Lynn by Kristen from wRIte iT DOwN.  I particularly love the reindeer ornament!  I'm thinking we'll have to try that one on our own next year.

Anyone that knows me well knows I LOVE snowmen and snowflakes.  These little cuties are going to fit right in on our tree.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013


I love winter!

It's like God gives the earth a little face lift with each beautiful blanket of snow.  Watching all four seasons has been especially enjoyable for me this past year.  Just over two years ago we left the city life behind and found our forever home, Lord willing, in the country.  I still haven't gotten a pair of cowboy boots, but their time will come.

Just when we thought things were settling down for us our little snow-globe got turned upside down and shaken heard.  It has caused me to stop and reflect and SEEK the beauty around me with that much more zeal.  Yesterday, we received a light dusting of snow.  You know, the kind where it just barely covers things, and you can see the grass poking through, and the roadways are clear.  In years gone past that would have disappointed me.  I love the kind of snowfall where the sky just opens up, and it never seems like it will stop dropping buckets of snowflakes everywhere.  I love the kind of snowfall where time stops, and hot cocoa is sipped, and books are read.  That is my kind of snowfall.  However, yesterdays flakes were enjoyed by me just as much as the pulling your neighbors car out of the snowbank kind.  Beauty truly is in the eye of the beholder, and how we perceive things really is up to us.

The snowfall didn't change.  I did.

Through immense challenges comes tremendous growth, if we allow ourselves to be taught.  I am making a concerted effort to be a willing student.  We learn SO MUCH more when we actually allow ourselves to be taught.

"Teach me, and I will hold my tongue:
and cause me to understand where I have erred."
~ Job 6:24

My constant prayer is to learn as much as possible, as quickly as possible, from the lessons laid before me so that my wisdom may increase, and the duration of my lesson may decrease.  Lord willing, I will see the days of repeating the same lessons over, and over, and over as a distant memory.  I continuously ask God for more wisdom.  It is only through fully learning and understanding the lessons we are given that our outlook, or perspective, on life can be healed.  We must be taught to see the beauty in all things.  It is always there for us to behold.  We just have to choose to see it.

Friday, December 06, 2013

Lentils - A Biblical Lesson

This weeks biblical lesson fit nicely in with our Sabbath preparations.  In our home Friday is Preparation Day.  We do our best to get the house tidy, food prepared ahead for Sabbath, and our things that we need for church in the morning laid out ahead of time.  These simple steps really do contribute greatly to making Sabbath a joy.

We have been learning the story of Jacob and Esau.  With this comes a lesson on the power of hunger to influence our decision making.  According to Genesis 25:29-34 Esau was so hungry that he gave Jacob his birthright for a bowl of lentil stew.

In Bible lands lentils have been an important food for centuries.  They can grow in very poor soil.  Lentils are small and resemble a pea.  They are hearty and nutritious.

Today, as part of our lesson, and in preparation for our Sabbath Potluck at church tomorrow, Harmony and I made homemade lentil stew.

Here's how we did it:

Lentil Stew
We used Green Lentils,
and fresh lemon juice makes all the difference!

2 T Olive Oil
1 Large Onion, chopped
1 Head Garlic, minced
4 Stalks Celery, chopped
2 Carrots, peeled and chopped
6 cups Water
4 packets George Washington's Golden Broth
1 15oz. can Petite Diced Tomatoes
2 T Cumin
2 Lemons, juiced

*The ingredients in italics are not authentic, but this is how we like it.

Heat the olive oil in a large soup pan.  Add onion, garlic, celery and carrot.  Cook on medium high heat until they start to soften.

Add some salt and the cumin.  Cook until vegetables are tender.

Add the water, GW Golden Broth, and the can of tomatoes.  Let simmer for about 45 minutes.

Add the juice of the two lemons and season to taste with salt and pepper just before serving.

Have a Happy Sabbath!

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Behold the Power

One of the most powerful books I have ever read, more than once, is The Power of a Praying Wife by Stormie Omartian.  If your marriage is anything at all like mine you have weathered a storm or two, or fifty, as a married couple.  I don't think I've ever felt more helpless than when my husband is struggling on a deep and personal level.  How this book crossed my path I am unsure, but I am forever thankful.

Personally, I believe there no more powerful tool at our disposal than prayer, and I hold it as a treasured gift.  It is unclear to me how I ever made it as far as I did before I ever discovered the power of prayer within my own life.  I do, however, attribute my survival to my dedicated and prayerful grandmother, among other caring family members.  Prayer is our direct connection to God; our family tie if you will.  There is no better place to focus our time and energy than with our relationship with the Father.

I have felt compelled to pick up this wonderful tool once again.  Initially I was just going to access the prayers, as they are powerful in and of themselves.  So much so that they have now published the prayers separately for quick reference.  However, it has been about a year now that life fully knocked us off our feet, and my time with the Creator has suffered.  Inadvertently so has my marriage relationship.  It's no surprise, really, when time is of a premium.  There are only so many hours in a day, and some things take longer to bounce back from than others.  When life throws you a curve ball sometimes it hits you square between the eyes!  It can take some time to focus past the stars circling your head.

In the past year we have welcomed two new young ones into our fold, settled more fully into our county home, experienced the re-entrance and exit of our college age son to and from our home - leaving a huge wake that we are still recovering from, and severed some pretty strong family ties.  There is a lot of emotional energy that was expended through these huge life events right at a time when we were expecting to experience a more laid back way of life.  Then, of course there's more, you add on a struggling business just to frost that tasty life cake, and you've got one sweet concoction sitting right in the middle of your dining room table.  It's a cake I'd rather toss in the trash than indulge in, but alas it is our lot to eat every last bite.

Here in lies the choice.  Will every bite be bitter and hard to swallow, or will we find the sweetness that lies within?  Enter The Power of a Praying Wife.  Past experience has taught me that when my mind is focused on my relationship above, and my relationships with those near and dear, the bites I do have to swallow taste all the more sweet.  When I choose to start my day with prayer, especially prayer focused on my most important relationship, the day goes by much more smoothly than when I neglect to do so.  Today I choose to focus on the most important things.  Today I begin with focused prayer for my husband.

"Through wisdom a house is built, 
and by understanding it is established; 
by knowledge the rooms are filled 
with all precious and pleasant riches."
~ Proverbs 24:3,4

Monday, November 25, 2013

I Should be Cleaning, or Should I?

There was a time when the current state of my house would have unnerved me to the point that I could accomplish nothing before tending to the domestic duties loudly calling my name.  Over the years I have learned that there are many more things that have a much higher importance than a home so clean it could grace the pages of Better Homes and Gardens magazine.  Does that mean that I like a messy house?  Absolutely not!  I function best in a home that is orderly and clean.  However, life is messy, time is limited, and kids are only young for so long.  Then, it's over.  Children graduate, and as time frees up the house gets cleaner.

The part that was most challenging for me is that I had a small taste of freedom, and a near perfectly clean home was my norm.  In a way I do miss that.  Who wouldn't?  We raised seven children to adulthood.  We have 12 grandchildren and one more on the way.  We were shifting gears where our focus would be more off our children and more on ourselves and our grandchildren.  It was a welcome change of pace.

Then, we were thrown our first curve ball.  It's one we're ever thankful we caught!  Thanks to that unexpected jag in the road we now find ourselves proud parents of a soon to be four-year-old.  After seven children raising one was like a vacation...seriously.  Life was still slow paced, and we were taking time to smell the roses, and the scent of a very comfortably clean home.  Active homeschooling was still years in the future.  This was our time.

Enter curve ball number two, and three if you will.  Apparently, God has a lot of confidence in our ability to rear children.  We now find ourselves the proud parents of an eight-and-a-half-year-old, and a soon to be three-year-old.  Biologically they are our grandchildren, but legally we are their guardians.  We now find ourselves neck deep in homeschooling, and child rearing.  Thankfully, we are entering the other side of potty training.  (Two at once I might add!)  Through their presence in our lives God has been teaching me what is truly most important in life.

News flash!

Having  a spotless home is not even in the top 10.  Who knew?  (Yes, I am saying this tongue-in-cheek.)

These past few months have been extremely stressful for our family.  More stressful even than becoming a teen mother.  (I'll save that story another time.)  But, seriously, I never thought anything could ever top that.  Welcome to adulthood, a full contact sport!  The girls have now been with us a full year, and our family experienced some boat rocking that unsettled us all for a bit.  We're now coming out the other side, and recovery is taking some time.  Schedules have been thrown off, and many messes have been made.  We're working on finding our center again.

With the inclusion of two new young souls in our home there came a lot of lessons to learn.  Most of them had to do with ourselves.  You know?  The you that exists deep down inside.  For me, the current state of my home would always dictate a lot in my life.  It dictated how I felt about myself.  It would dictate to me my success or failure as a wife and mother.  It dictated to me whether or not I had time to spend with my children.  It dictated to me when I got up in the morning and went to bed at night.  It dictated to me whether or not I had company.  That's a whole lot of control to give to a house.

So, I took it back!

Now, my children come first.  The dishes can wait.  When my friends come over they may see a basket of laundry around, the counter may have dirty dishes stacked on it, the family room will surely be littered with toys, and in all likelihood my floors will be in need of a good sweeping.  Be sure to help yourself to the broom in the corner.  (wink-wink)  However, my perspective has changed.  I can look at my messy house and tell that I have been making time for things that matter for eternity, not just the moment.  I no longer get up early to sweep the floors, or pick up the family room.  If this mamma rises before the sun it's to spend time with her creator, and maybe throw another log on the fire.  I don't even sweep up the wood mess right away.  Gasp!  Now, I can look at my messy home, especially when it's a little past lived-in, and see that I have been up to something good.  I am investing my time in what matters most.  That makes everything sparkle!

My List of Top 10 Things MORE Important than a Clean House:

10.  A Happy House
  9.  A Healthy Family
  8.  A Means of Supporting our Family
  7.  Fresh Air, and Time to Enjoy It
  6.  Freedom to Home Educate
  5.  Freedom to Worship
  4.  Time with Friends
  3.  Time with Children
  2.  Time with My Husband
  1.  Time with God

Those are things that surely matter most.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Living in a Spirit of Gratefulness

Gratitude is a lifestyle choice.  When we choose to focus on the things that are good around us we can do great things for ourselves, our families, and our community.  Choosing gratitude literally changes our lives spiritually, physically, and emotionally.  There are many resources available to scientifically show the benefits to us, as well as those around us, when we practice gratitude in our daily lives.  The more we are aware of the abundance in which we live the more we are able to give of ourselves.

As a child of God, wife, mother, home educator, and nana it is important to me to feed my soul so that I have enough left of myself to give to those that count on me as well as those that God puts in my path during my day to day living.  Over the years I have learned a few simple ways to keep my spirit fed, and I have gathered a few tools that help make the task a little more simple.  To maintain full disclosure you must know that I have neither maintained all of these practices during all phases of my life, nor have I practiced them all simultaneously.  They are simply things that I know from experience that are beneficial to a strong and consistent spiritual walk as well as a healthy outlook on life that keeps my focus where it should be in order that I may be as healthy as I can to perform my God given responsibilities in my daily living.

There are many resources for the study of God's Word.  I have a couple favorites.  The first is the Women of Faith Bible Study Series.  This is a collection of guides on various topics that can be studied alone or in small groups.  Normally when I do these studies I space each chapter over a week's time.  It is easiest for me to find say 15 minutes preferably at the start of my day, but anytime throughout where I can sneak in a few minutes works for me, so these studies are ideal.  I recently discovered that Women of Faith also has a free app that offers an abundance of free resources.  My second favorite resource is available through YouVersion.  It is a bible app that I access through my computer, smart phone, and my Kindle Fire.  It is free, so I am very grateful for that.  :)  Personally, I use it primarily for the actual bible studies that it offers.  There are literally hundreds available.  It is easy to sign up, and the "catch me up" feature is my favorite.  Anytime I manage to fall behind, and this happens more than I care to admit, I can simply ask it to restart from the last date that I completed.  On any given day I do anywhere from one to say three or even four studies.  I am currently doing a parenting study and a faith study.  In the past I have completed studies on the topics of marriage, Christmas, Hosea, Finances, and Easter to name a few.  The list of topics is limitless.

One of the most beneficial practices to my mental health and my ability to maintain a spirit of gratitude is journaling.  Over the years I have kept my gratitude journal in various formats.  It is simply not necessary to spend a bunch of money on a fancy journal.  You can write in the data processing program on your computer, keep a blog, write in an actual journal or even a simple pad of paper.  I have a simple strategy I implement when journaling.  I begin by listing five things that I am grateful for which can be anything from a patch of daisies I saw on the side of the road to surviving a car accident to the health of my children.  If we stop to think about it there really are so very many things to be grateful for in our lives.  Too often we get so caught up focusing on the negative that we forget the many things we have to be grateful for in our daily walk.  After listing the five reasons I am grateful I continue to write a minimum of three pages in my journal.  There is no rule to the content of this writing.  It is simply required that I write.  It is fine if it is aimless.  The simple act of writing is good for our mind, body and soul.

I love exploring and sharing on Pinterest.  One thing I discovered on one of my creative exploits is an idea that I like a lot and will be implementing in our home for the coming year is a Thankful Jar.  The concept is a simple one with big implications.  You keep a special jar on the counter or another location where all family members have easy access.  As things happen throughout the year that are a reason to give thanks they get written down and dropped into the jar.  On New Year's Eve the family gathers and reads about all the reasons they have had to be thankful for over the past year.  Focusing on what we are grateful for on a regular basis more greatly impacts our lives than when we just do it sporadically.  

As a home educator I am always looking for different ways to instill positive habits with lifelong implications into the daily practices of my children.  There are many ways we can teach our children to live with a spirit of gratitude.  In our home we pray at meals and bedtime and anytime that a special need arises.  I always model prayer by beginning with reasons we are thankful.  For me this is the easiest way to consistently model gratitude to our children.  We also practice the apparently dying art of hand written notes of thanks.  I hold it in high importance to openly express thankfulness to others for gifts, both material and intangible.  There is nothing quite like receiving a hand written note of gratitude to warm our hearts and boost our esteem.  We also consistently go through our belongings for things that no longer fit us or items that have outgrown their usefulness to us.  We keep in mind our favorite charities, family members and friend when deciding who might benefit from things we can no longer use, and the kids participate in the actual act of preparing and giving the items.  Also, as a family we are always looking for ways we can serve others within our own home, our family, our church family, and our general community, even the world.  This year our family is participating in Operation Christmas Child and Friends of Foster Kids, as well as donating to Grace Centers of Hope through our business.  We involve the kids in all these acts of sharing as much as possible.  Our family has also sponsored children through Compassion International for over 10 years now.  We currently have a boy in Bolivia and a girl in India.  On occasion I have the kids color or draw a picture to send to them.  There are many ways to involve our children in world wide outreach as well as within our communities if we just take the time to look for the opportunities around us.  Currently, a group of children within our local homeschool group is collecting food for an awesome organization right here in our county call Hunter Hospitality House.  My children will be helping me go through our cupboards to put together a bag of food to donate from our family.  They love to be included in these activities, and you can just see their little eyes light up when they participate in the giving.  Our 4-H Club also participates in the adopt-a-family program through The Salvation Army each Christmas season.  All of these activities foster a spirit of giving in our children and unite us as a family in the act of giving.

As you can see, there are many ways for us to learn about, practice, and teach the art of living a life of gratitude.  The implications for ourselves as well as others are limitless.  The key is to start.  Choose an activity, and begin.  Based on my experience the best place to start is with ourselves.  When our spirits are well it will simply spill over to the others in our lives.  Caring for ourselves first gives us the strength and knowledge to share with those around us.  Just like the oxygen mask in an airplane, if we first fill ourselves with gratitude we can then share it with others.

"Give thanks in all circumstances; 
for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you."

- I Thessalonians 5:18

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Transition: A Matter of Perspective

Life has had many twists and turns over the past few years.  I find myself in a constant state of transition.  It can really be exhausting as much as it is anything else; exciting, nerve wracking, challenging, inspiring, etc.  Sometimes I wonder just how much intensity I can possibly take.  That's a dangerous thought to ponder.  You just never know what might be around the next corner.  Trust me.  Life really is a mystery.  Just when you think you might have something figured out everything changes.  I honestly don't think there is much of anything that can throw me, catch me off guard, or shock me anymore.

It's like you become seasoned experiencing so much in such a short time.  I mean, seriously, 40 years really isn't a long time at all.  Sometimes I wish we lived as long as they did in Bible times.  If you think about it, even if you lived a full 100 years it really isn't that long at all.  It takes us a good 30 or 40 years to even figure out what is really important.  Just about that time our bodies start betraying us.  I recognize that most, if not all, of our health maladies are self-inflicted through diet and lifestyle.  With the corruption of our food system and the lies we've believed about what is and is not healthy we practically have to be a private investigator just to know what we should or should not eat.  That aside, just imagine what you could accomplish if you lived to say even 300 years.  The possibilities would be limitless.

On another perspective, what if we hadn't transitioned to a work based society.  What if children still had responsibilities that made them real contributors to society?  What if we didn't base our life on artificial time lines?  What if we weren't limited by our age?  What if we grew up thinking we could do anything and those around us supported us in our ideas and explorations?  What if our society was really based on loving our neighbor?  Oh how different things could be.

With those questions in mind I have been actively transitioning my perspective.  Beauty is the simplest thing to seek on a daily basis.  So, I started there.  It really is everywhere.  I often wonder if people truly behold the beauty around them, or do they just take it for granted.  Life is way too short to take anything for granted, and the beauty around us is free for the taking.  Granted, it can be more challenging dependent upon your environment, but I have grown to believe that more depends on our perspective.  After all, we are in control of how we perceive all things.  Really, we are.

Another one I challenged myself with is the issue of being judgmental.  I made a conscious decision to stop judging others.  I mean do we ever really know the reason behind that person cutting us off on the freeway, or why the cashier at the store was rude to us?  We really do have no way of knowing why someone we don't know on any level does what they do at any given moment.  It is a choice to not take things personally and to not stand in judgement of others for any reason.  Really, it is not our place.

The most challenging transition I have been working on, and it remains unconquered for me for the time being, is learning not to base my emotions on the attitude of others.  We really can control how we react to what others do and say to us.  We do not have to meet anger with anger or spite with spite.  I am a very emotional person, and I recognize the possibility of maintaining calm in all circumstances.  It just seems so impossible to me at the moment.  Where do we draw the line?  Why do we give up so much control?  It really is up to us how we feel about the actions of others in relation to us.  Really, it is.

So, my reality is that God in his infinite wisdom finds it necessary to lay a heavy load on my shoulders.  I accept that wholeheartedly.  I do not know why, and that is okay.  However, it was suggested by a dear friend that I am such a capable person how else would God show me that I need to rely on him for all things?  There is sound wisdom in that observation.  If he didn't give me a heavy load to carry, I would likely walk easily off relying on self and forgetting that He is the source of all my strength.

I accept my burden and grasp my lessons:

Beauty is all around us and free for the taking.

     "O worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness:  fear before him, all the earth." - Psalm 96:9

I will judge no man.

     "Ye judge after the flesh; I judge no man." - John 8:15

It is up to me how I react to others.  Period.

     "She opened her mouth with wisdom, and in her tongue is the law of kindness." - Proverbs 31:26

My life may be in constant flux, and I accept the persistent presence of constant transition, but I know that my God is present in all circumstance.  I accept my burdens and my lessons and will ever rise to the challenge.  Life may beat me up, batter my bones, and drain my energy, but I will rise to the challenge with the strength of my Lord.  Above all I will do my best to honor him and reflect his love first to my family, and then to all those he puts in my path.  Life really is more beautiful with an adjusted perspective.

Monday, November 04, 2013

Just for Fun

Snagged Tag

I snagged this tag from Juliana's Lair .

1. Where is your cell phone? Right beside me.
2. Your hair? Long
and straight
3. Your mother? Hands off.

4. Your father?
5. Your favorite food? Raspberries; even better Raspberry Cheesecake!

6. Your dream last night?
I know I did, but I've forgotten the topic.
7. Your favorite drink?
Water with Lemon
8. Your dream/goal? To live a self-sustaining lifestyle very close to the land.
9. What room you are in?
10. Your hobby? Research
11. Your fear?
12. Where do you want to be in 6 years?
Right where I am.
13. Where were you last night?
14. Something that you are not? Judgmental

15. Muffins? Lemon Poppy Seed
16. Wish list item?
Pressure Canner
17. Where you grew up?
SE Michigan
18. Last thing you did? Loaded the wood burner.

19. What are you wearing?
Comfy Pajamas
20. Your TV?
34" Flat Screen 
21. Your pets?
Two cats, one dog, and a few fish.
22. Friends?
A few close ones.
23. Your life? Full

24. Your mood?
25. Missing someone? Children out of state.
26. Car?
27. Something you’re not wearing?
28. Your favorite store?
Aside from resale, Kohl's.
29. Your favorite color? Light Blue

30. When was the last time you laughed? A lot Saturday night!
31. Last time you cried?
Not too long ago.
32. Who will resend this? Not re-sending, publishing to blog.
33. One place that I go to over and over?
 The St. Clair River 
34. One person w
ho emails me regularly? My mom.
35. My favorite place to eat? The dining room with my family and friends.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Planning to be Flexible in My Homeschool

It's funny how time presses on, and we transform into a new reflection of ourselves.  It's true, really.  I mean, think about it.  Are you the same person you were even a year ago?  What about 10 or 20 years ago?  Of course not!  One of the areas I notice the greatest change in myself over the years, and the most painful of processes I might add, is in the area of flexibility.  I am still a very serious person, but praise God I can relax a little now.  There are so many factors that have contributed to me learning to loosen up a little bit, and not take life quite so seriously.

My life has been anything but simple.  Maybe that is why I have become so determined to live more and more simple as each day passes.  I actually work to slowdown; to take in the beauty around me, and to genuinely enjoy living.  This does not come without it's challenges.  One expression rings true for me more often than I like, "Life gets in the way of living."  It seems I am in a constant battle against the throws of life, but I am becoming an expert at rolling with the punches.

Most recently life has been quite possibly more challenging for me than it ever has been, and that is saying a lot given all the challenges I have faced in my 40 plus years.  As a homeschool parent in our unique circumstances I am quite certain it has never been more important to me to keep a regular schedule and stay on track.  This is a feat that proved near impossible of late.  Rest assured we have entered a 'life lull', and I couldn't be more relieved.

The key to flexibility?  Planning.  Yes, that's right.  Planning.  It is my planning that permits me the freedom to be flexible.  Only certain things get written in pen, because ALL things can be rescheduled, restructured, revised, and rewritten.  Having a plan helps me keep my head about me when all of life is spinning out of control around me.  What plans are the biggest stress reducers in times of extreme chaos?  Here are the top on my list:

Educational Plan - I always plan at a minimum one week out.  Ideally, I will plan a month ahead.  Of course, this is written COMPLETELY in pencil.  The freedom it gives me is unmatched by anything else.  It is so much easier to pull out my planner, look at the plan for the day, and work my way down the list.  No real thinking is needed; just read and do!  It may be a bit intimidating at first, but the return on the investment is priceless.  Having it all written ahead of time makes it so much easier to shuffle things around if need be, and most importantly accomplish more than we would if we were completely flying by the seat of our pants.  My new favorite tool for keeping this all together is My Well Planned Day planner.  I use the paper version.  It rocks!

Meal Plan - Having a meal plan is a close second to the educational plan.  I can quite lose my mind if I have had a stressful, or unexpectedly busy day, and I find myself with three hungry kids and no plan.  It's in times like this that I resort to poor decision making.  I let laziness, or tiredness, or stress, or whatever you prefer to label it, win out and order a pizza, or pick up Chinese, or even go out to eat.  Living 20 minutes away from everything makes this an even more costly venture.  My time and money, and my health, are very important to me.  So, if I want to protect those areas of my life and the lives of my family I must have a plan.  Over the years I have used different strategies to accomplish the same goal.  One resource you may enjoy is called Pepperplate.  I loved it for a time, and will surely return to it one day, but for now I am a pen to paper meal planner.  Quite simply, I just make a list of breakfasts, lunches, and dinners for about three weeks.  I base my grocery shopping on those meals, which is done every two weeks, and plug my meals in my planner (in pencil).  I don't always have the said meal on the said day, but I can be prepared for busy days and plan to cook more involved meals on more relaxed days.

Self-Care Plan - With the education of my children planned out and the food we'll eat prepared for, it's time for me to think about what it is that keeps me sane.  What do I do to feed my soul, to tend to the care and keeping of me?  As mothers we give 100% of ourselves, and that will surely run short if we don't keep ourselves in good health; spiritual, mental, and physical.  I may not be able to pursue all the things that interest me all the time, but I can keep my eye out for opportunities, and even create them as the need, or dare I say desire, arises.  One book that really helped me along in recognizing was The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron.  I worked through it years ago with a friend.  I am glad I stuck it out.  It did require some commitment.  I've always thought to do it again, but the time has not come for such things as of yet.  Also, I currently use YouVersion to do my morning studies.  It's awesome, because you can do studies and easily catch up if you miss a day or two, or more.  Meal planning falls under this category as well since planning ahead allows me the freedom to prepare homemade, fresh food for myself and my family.  I also make an effort to surround myself with uplifting individuals and consciously invest my time in quality people.  All relationships take a certain amount of work.  Choose where you spend your energy wisely, and you will be greatly blessed by your efforts.

Financial Plan - I do not claim to be any sort of expert in the area of finances, but the responsibility for my household finances has landed in my lap.  I have learned by experience what works for me and what does not.  I simply must keep a monthly budget and maintain the importance of tithe at the very top of my list.  I am not sure what your experience has been, but I can tell directly in my pocketbook if I have fumbled the ball in the tithe department.  It has been my experience that my finances are MUCH easier to bear when I faithfully pay my tithe.  Bill paying and budgeting other expenses is most challenging, by far, when I somehow fail to remember to pay my tithe.  In general money goes much farther if you have a plan, and don't just throw it around thoughtlessly.  In times of great stress, it is SO MUCH easier to just pop on my computer, look at my list of commitments, and pay the bills.  No real thinking is needed.  It is a total life saver.  If you have not taken advantage of online bill pay, you simply have to give it a try.  It saves loads of time and money.  Love it!

Special Occasion Plan - With so many children in my charge there is no way we can have any type of gathering without at least some advance planning on my part.  Over the years I have gotten better and better at simplifying things, praise God!  Having raised seven children to adulthood, four public schooled/three homeschooled, and currently raising three more as homeschoolers, along with waiting for grandchild number 13 to enter the world, just getting our immediate family together is a major undertaking.  Some events get planned months in advance, while others can be put together in a couple of weeks, or even days when necessary, but the common thread is to plan.  Period.  Also, I have learned to not be shy about asking for help when I need it.  The perfectionist-control freak in me has learned to allow such "intrusions".  ;)

Homestead Plan - This kind of ties in with my homeschool plan, as our plan is to raise our children to know and understand the homestead lifestyle.  It has become very important to me to live as close to the land as possible.  It is a purpose that I value in importance for teaching my children.  The land we tend, the food we eat, being responsible and accountable, our contribution to our community; all of these things are of great importance to me.  Homesteading fits perfectly into our lifestyle and offers many lessons on planning and flexibility.  On a homestead there would not be much accomplished if we were lacking much in either area.

Housekeeping Plan - There was a time in my life when this would be at the top of my list, and look where it landed.  At the very bottom!  Of course, it is necessary to plan for the care and keeping of your home, but I dare say that it is the easiest to slough off and the most forgiving.  All the things listed above, yes all of them, are incredibly more important than how much laundry you have, or the counter full of dishes, or even how many weeks, or months, it's been since you mopped your floors.  It took me years AND YEARS to become comfortable with this fact, but it is entirely life changing once you arrive; I mean completely arrive.  Of course, if you ever want to achieve a certain level of clean, or even maintain a semblance of cleanliness, it is purely essential to have a plan.  Even a loose plan is helpful.  Your truest of friends don't come over to inspect your house, they come to see you.  Learn to relax a little and recognize that everyone that has any amount of children home full-time lives in various stages of mess and disorder.

So, the conclusion?  Planning the various parts of my life integral to my daily living gives me the freedom to be flexible.  I have learned to value my time above all other resources.  Whatever I can do to guard and protect my most cherished resource is well worth my effort and pays off in great dividends, most of all the preservation of my sanity.

Saturday, October 26, 2013


This year will see my hubby to 50 years of living.  He's a great man, dedicated to family and helping others.  The kids and I wanted to do something super special for him.  Of course he's one of those dads that always tells you to not worry about his birthday, he doesn't need any gifts, and he would prefer a handmade card.  Coming up with something to buy him is near impossible, but we knew something that would mean more to him than any material gift.  So, we made plans to surround him with all of his children and grandchildren.  It was a challenging task that took six months to plan and tremendous effort to keep under wraps, but we did it.  We pulled off the ultimate surprise without a hitch!  Yep, you read that right.  Something went completely perfect for our family, and it was amazing.

Our youngest daughter and her husband flew in from Missouri, and our Navy son flew in from South Carolina.  Due to the government shutdown, we did not know if the Navy son would be able to take leave until the day before the party!  So glad he was granted leave.  It would not have been the same without him since he was an integral part of the surprise, and who would have helped me clean the house?  We gathered all the children, minus two, and all the grandchildren, minus one, into our home. Vehicles were hidden down the road, finishing touches were made, and pictures were taken.

We prepared a traditional holiday meal, had a photographer do family photos, and we waited.  I knew better than to try and capture the moment myself.  Our family is just too big, and it takes too much effort just to keep the party rolling for me to be in charge of photography.  It just isn't humanly possible.  So, for the really big events that I just don't want to be without pictures I hire out, and I breathe a sigh of relief and enjoy the party.

We wrapped up all the details in plenty of time, and we waited.  I watched out the office window for his car to emerge through the trees, and there it was.  "He's home!", I yelled, and everyone got into place.  It was so awesome to hear everyone yell, "Surprise!", as he walked through the door and see the look of confusion on his face when our son in law was the first person he laid eyes on.  Totally priceless!  He was so touched and enjoyed himself so much that he thanked me for it for days.  Pulling this off for him is sure to remain a high point in my life.  SO AWESOME!


Smith Family Part Two; the Third Batch

The Family
All present and accounted for!

Mr. & Mrs.

Happy Birthday to You!

Ultrasound pics of #13

It really was a great time.  We missed the children and the gandchild greatly that were unable to attend.  With eight children and 12 grandchildren it's no wonder we can never seem to get them all in the same place at the same time, but we are a houseful nonetheless.  The cousins always have such a wonderful time together, and I am so happy we find ways to get them together now and then.

It just feeds my husband's soul to have his family around him.  If we could have figured some way to make it work we would have had everyone possible here (siblings, parents, grandparents, cousins, friends, etc.), but it just could not be done.  Guess we'll save the super big bash for when he turns 60.

Monday, August 26, 2013

What a Difference a Year Makes

We just never know where our paths will lead.  I don't know about you, but for me it is like traveling around a constant bend.  The road curves ahead of you leaving just a small portion of your path in view.  What truly lies ahead remains unseen, a gift waiting to be discovered.  If we sincerely believe our steps guided and all experiences valuable then it is of no matter what remains unseen.  All that awaits is a gift if we keep our focus on things above.  Even the most seemingly negative of circumstances hold within them a gift if we are open and courageous enough to look past the surface.

I am forever thankful that I am not the one in charge of my life.  Messes are my expertise, and I do not need any more experience in the driver's seat to know that my hands may be on the wheel, but I am not the one doing the steering; that is if I remember to stay out of the way and keep a willing heart.  It is possible to drive all the while having our course be guided.  I am constantly reminded that every stop we've made along the way has brought us to where we are now.  If I had not made the choices and experienced the consequences, good and bad, of my decisions in days gone by I would not be the person that I am today.  It is certainly easy to think of the negative implications and focus on what may have been lost.  However, I choose to keep my vision on the positives and be thankful that things are as good as they are.  Sometimes our sight requires a little adjusting.  When we're hit with bigger than life events it can throw us off a bit, but constant conversation with the Creator will surely keep our paths straight; if only for a time.  And, if we're living in the present, really living in the here and now, that is all that truly matters.

This past year provided for us another big change.  Our family, the family that resides within the bounds of our home, has grown by three.  One left, one returned, and two were added.  Yup, that is huge adjustment all around for all involved.  As my last post indicated, our oldest son left home for the Navy.  He currently finds himself stationed in South Carolina.  His first visit home since leaving that day will not be until this coming October.  In November of last year two of our granddaughters came to live with us.  We didn't know it at the time, but it would be a permanent arrangement.  I became their court appointed guardians this past June.  Right on their heels in April of this year our youngest son returned home from Wayne State to secure employment and attend the local community college.

We have given hugs, said goodbye, made amends, severed ties, given flight, and created sanctuary.  There is a whole lot of emotion tied into all of that activity.  My newest revelation?  The only constant in life is change.  Learning that fact, and accepting it wholeheartedly, has given me such freedom within all that has transpired in the past nine months.  It's rather symbolic really.  Nine months.  The gestation time for human life.  It leads to a birth and loads of change.  What have we nurtured in the past nine months?  The melding of lives.  We have created another family within our already large family.  Rolling with the punches has become an area of expertise for the hubby and myself.

In 1997 we became a serious couple blending our two families together.  We gave up being single parents and learned how to open our hearts to the endless bounds of love overflowing.  Our families became one and we numbered nine.  The next milestone was 2005.  It was a year of tremendous emotion.  We lost my father to his battle with male breast cancer on April 1st, our first grandchild was born on July 24th, and we wed on September 17th.  Our lives were never the same, and we could have never imagined the journey before us.

The children aged and spread their wings, more grandchildren were born, and we were actively viewing the light at the end of the tunnel.  The time came when we could take off on a spontaneous road trip just the two of us, or hop on the motorcycle for an afternoon ride.  No worries.  We were enjoying an emptier nest.

Then we were presented with the opportunity to become parents again, and our journey went around the bend slowly revealing more and more with each step.  Avery was born in January of 2010.  Our family now numbered 10.  We sold our house in December of the same year and purchased our new home in August of 2011.  Through a lot of transition we found ourselves moving from a large family in the city to a soon-to-be parents of one young child in the country living arrangement.  Andrew went in the Navy, Adrian went to university, and Avery hung out at home with us.  We had effectively given flight to all seven children.  Raising a single child felt like a vacation.  It was fun while it lasted.

In November of 2012 the girls came to be with us, and life has forever changed again.  We are learning how to parent in yet another set of circumstances.  Our new family structure sets to remind us that love really does know no bounds, and anything is possible.  Families come in all shapes and sizes, and presumptions are a waste of time and energy.  If anyone has done the math you have now figured out that the full size of our family numbers 12; two parents, and 10 children.  In our home we currently have a variety of ages; 19, 8, 3, and 2.  (Six of the original seven are off living their adult lives.)  With such a vast range in ages comes a variety of personality types and emotions.  We are learning how to live together and thrive.  Once again we find ourselves a full-time home school family.  We kind of dove in head first.  The kids love it, and so do we.

It took a little more growth, but I can see the blessings more clearly and more quickly now.  The little road bumps in life have become more of a minor inconvenience instead of completely throwing us off track.  Even the big, orange barrels cannot put us off track for long.  The capacity of our heart is limitless if it remains always open.  I knew God led us here, and I remain immensely grateful.  Even with the chaos, the big emotions, the endless change, and all the growth there is not one place in my history that has ever felt more like home.

It is really the greatest gift ever to be where we are geographically speaking.  I love our home, our community, our family, and our friends.  The network we have here is incredible.  Each and every day, even the ones where the struggles seem to dominate, I am SO thankful for everything with which we are blessed.  I choose to see the forest for the trees.  The blessings abound!  Are you looking for yours?  Do you see them?  They ARE there!  Take another step.  A new one is sure to be just around the bend.


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