Thursday, December 23, 2010

I have a small obsession...

with glass jars.  I love the shape and weight of them.  I love the cool, smooth feel of the glass in my hands.  They are pure and simple at it's best.  I've been collecting them for years.

I use canning or recycled pasta sauce jars to store beans, rice and popcorn kernels in my pantry.   It gives it the feel of an old country store.

I use jelly jars for holding small amounts of leftover sauces or for mixing my own dry spice blends.  Salad dressing bottles hold vinegar and oils in my spice cabinet.

And then there are our drinking glasses...I actually started buying a certain brand of salsa just for the jar, and now we have a matching set!

Jar candles have the best lids.  When the candle has burned for the last time, I clean out the leftover wax and use these jars for holding cotton balls and swabs in the bathroom.  There is one at the moment that is full of birdseed.  I had a small candle jar with a wooden stopper that is perfect for holding spare change in the car, and it fits in the cup holder!

Jars without lids hold taller items like pens and paintbrushes.  My sewing box wouldn't been complete without a button jar.

I also use them for holding memories...seashells we've collected over the Summers and sand from the beach we visited on our honeymoon. 

So before you toss that glass container in the recycling bin, look for ways to give it a second life in your home.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Simplicity in the kitchen is not about having a gadget for every job, but a few gadgets that do a lot!  One of my favorite tools in my kitchen is the ice cream scoop.

Of course it's perfect for dishing out sundaes, but I also use it for scooping out cookie dough.  No messy hands, just scoop and drop on the cookie sheet. 

With a big family there seems to be a birthday party every month, and an ice cream scoop is perfect for filling the muffin tin.  It keeps batter from dripping all over the pan and each one is measured perfectly. 

Scoops come in various sizes, but I just have the one.  No reason to clutter up the kitchen drawer when you can just fill it by 1/2 or 1/4 to get the amount needed. 

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Homeschooling: FREE Preschool Activities

This year I am teaching my two older ones 1st and 2nd grade.  We have Bible and story time as a family, but while we are doing Math and English I need activities to keep my 3 year old close, but quiet.  Here are some of our favorites that I made for free, mostly from things I had around the house.

Color Matching:

I was in the Home Depot picking out paint colors when I came across these cute color samples.  I grabbed two of each of the basic colors and now we have a matching game. ( Free!)

Lacing Beads:

A shoelace and some chunky wooden simple but he loves this one.  He will lace the beads on with such concentration.  We match by color or bead shape, or make patterns.  It's great for fine motor skills too.  (This is obviously for littles that are past that put-everything-in-my-mouth stage)

Matching Shapes:

I cut pairs of shapes out of card stock.  I glued one set to another sheet of card stock and laminated everything with clear contact paper for durability.  Kids can match the loose shapes to the ones on the card.

Fun with Felt:

I have a huge stash of felt in every color of the rainbow and I am constantly trying to find new things to make with it.  Felt sticks to itself, so I give the kids a small sheet and various cut out shapes and they make pictures with the pieces.

I've also made sets.  We have a felt pizza: a brown circle for the crust, a smaller red circle for the sauce another white circle for the cheese and then lots of felt toppings.  They love designing their own pizza!

For ABC practice, I wrote the alphabet on a sheet of felt with permanent markers.  I cut out pictures that start with each letter.  They match the pieces to the letter sounds.

Junk Jar:

 I have an empty peanut butter jar full of lots of little random things.  Buttons, ribbons, paperclips, trinkets...The kids love to sort them by shape, color, texture, material...

To play "I Spy", they shake and spin the jar, searching for the object that the other is giving clues for.  They can also search for items beginning with a certain letter.

All these activities are put in their own zipper bags and kept in a drawer (or box).  I told my preschooler that this is his schoolwork and when we get out our books for school, he runs over to grab one of his activities.  He is really proud of them and it has been a huge help for me.
A few minutes of preparing these has brought much more peace to our day.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Managing Hand-me-downs

My kids have been blessed with lots of older cousins and friends which means every season there are bags of hand-me-downs dropped off at my doorstep.  When I had just 2 kids it wasn't too overwhelming, but now that I have 5, these bags have turned into a mountain.  I'm sure that it has saved us hundreds of dollars over the years.  I have barely ever had to buy my kids clothes, but for years this blessing at times has felt like a burden.  I would cringe when I saw friends show up with a bag.  I just didn't have room to store it all and it felt so unorganized.

It's not that I didn't try - but my system wasn't working.  I had clothes sorted by gender, by size...but I had multiple sizes and sometime my kids could wear 2 or 3 different sizes on the same day depending on the outfit.  Then I would be given random pieces here and there and would have to dig out the boxes and try to shove it in.  All the boxes were up in our tiny attic and it was such a chore.

I finally found a system that works for me and it has made my life so much easier. 

I bought 2 large plastic bins per child.  They are labeled with their name and Summer or Winter.  I have learned to only keep what I really love...what I would be willing to spend money on, and not what I feel pressured into keeping.  These bins are for their grow-into clothes.  If it doesn't fit in the bin, then they have too much and I sort through it again.

It is organized by season and child-not by size and that has made all the difference for me.  When the season changes, I take out their bins and all the clothes that may fit again next year and are in nice enough condition, are put back in their bin, replaced with this seasons clothes.  Things that are too small are passed onto younger siblings or cousins or donated to the thrift shop.
I also have 2 bins for any future babies organized by gender.
I recently switched over to our Fall clothes and while it is still a project - I think it is mostly because I have so many children and not because it is unorganized.

I don't save shoes, except for winter and mud boots which seem to last forever.  These are thrown in their own bin.  Winter coats and sweatshirts are also stored separately.  They are overly bulky so I use those storage bags that the air can be vacuumed out of.  Hats and gloves are also thrown in their own box.  I try to buy neutral colors so they can be shared by siblings.  I should just by all one color so we don't have to worry about finding a match.

At this house I am still lugging everything up the pull-down attic ladder.  In our new house, we will have actual stairs that lead to the attic with a cape cod roof.  I  can stand up in there and it will make it even easier.  I feel like I have my own children's boutique.  We are planning in the future to finish off the attic and maybe build a closet so that winter coats can just be hung up - but for now my system works for me and makes hand-me-downs easier to handle.

Everday Freezer Cooking

I am in awe of the stay at home moms that manage to pull off cooking once a month.  They meticulously plan a menu for a month at a time and freeze multiple batches of lasagna and other dinners.  I'm not up for the challenge just yet...but, I have been  finding little ways to make my freezer work for me - everyday.

  • Buying in Bulk
We have a larger family and buying in bulk is just becoming a necessary part of life in general, but it has also saved us a lot of money.  We don't pay for a club store membership, but I've been able to find bulk packs of meat at our grocery store for half the price of regularly portioned packs.  I divide them up into freeze bags in the amount needed for various meals.

  • Homemade Baby Food
This is so easy and saved us $20 a week.  I just steam some veggies, puree and pour into ice cube trays.  Once frozen, I pop out the cubes and throw them in a freezer bag.  I have to admit, the first time I did this, I would open my freezer just to admire the rainbow of frozen baby food knowing that I was saving money and making something wholesome for my baby that wasn't sitting on a shelf for who knows how long.

  • Single Servings
I eat lunch with the kids everyday...but that doesn't mean that I want to eat like a kid.  I have had more than my full of PB&J's and grilled cheese sandwiches.  Sometimes I will cook just for me.  Split pea soup or lentils and rice.  Yum!  Then I divide it into single servings and freeze them for my lunches.  Super easy and way better than opening a can of store bought soup.

  • Leftovers
This may seem obvious, I'm sure we all save leftovers, but I've found that when I put them in the fridge if they aren't used the next day, they usually get lost or forgotten about and eventually thrown away.  I freeze leftovers of ingredients too.  If I use half a jar of pasta or pizza sauce, I pour it into freezer bag, freeze it laying flat, then they can be stacked on the shelf.  If I roast a whole chicken, I shred the extra meat to save for chicken pot pie or other recipes that don't require a lot of meat.  I've also frozen ham bones and picked over turkeys and chickens for making soup with later.

  • Baked goods
This is my new favorite thing to use my freezer for.  It really isn't any more work to double a recipe.  While my cookies are baking in the oven, I flash freeze balls of cookie dough on a wax paper lined tray.  When they are frozen, I throw them in a zipper bag labled with the oven temperature.  Then when we want warm, homemade cookies, I bake as many as we need right from frozen, just adding a few minutes to the cooking time.
And don't forget pancakes and waffles!  They freeze really well and can be reheated in the microwave or toaster. 

  • Popsicles
I don't think I will ever buy a box of Popsicles again!  I found popsicle molds for $1.  Fill them with juice and you have a summer favorite for pennies.  I also use pureed fruit.  Watermelon and strawberries are our favorites.

Freezer cooking doesn't have to be an event.  A little extra effort here and there can save your family a lot and make your life a little more wholesome.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

This week I've found myself curled up on the couch with crochet hook in hand.  I love Autumn.  I love the chill in the air and handmade hats and scarves on my little ones.  I'm trying to use up my yarn stash before I start on this year's Christmas presents. 

I go through phases.  It's been months since I crocheted anything...but now that I've started up again, it's hard to stop.  I just love seeing a tangled ball of yarn turn into something beautiful just from my hands and a hook.

There is just something about working with brings back that wholesome love that is lost on store bought items.  It makes me cherish so many things more...simple things that we take for granted. 

This week in school we are learning about the early American settlers.  We churned our own butter...not straight from the cow, though my kids are insisting that we need one now.  It was so simple and pure and fun...and maybe it's just the novelty of it...I'm sure it would have gotten old if it were a daily chore.

Life has become so easy for us in modern America...but easier isn't always better.  I want to know where things come from.  I want to be able to meet a need with a little creativity instead of just running out to the store.  I want my children to value time.  I want them to understand putting love in what they do. 

Thursday, September 30, 2010

The family meal table

As we were picking out the floor plan for our new home, we had to think about what was most important to our family.  Some families want a large living room so they can all crowd around their huge flat screen TV to watch the big game.  We have a 13 inch TV/VCR combo.  :)
Some couples want a private master suite.  Our bedroom almost always has a nursing baby and a few little visitors during the night.

We wanted our kitchen to be the center of our home.  I'm not a gourmet chef, but I loving cooking for my family.  When I walked though our new kitchen for the first time, I realized that our kitchen table is not going to match it at all.  I found myself drooling over the Pottery Barn website.  Hey, a girl can dream.

Our first kitchen table was a $5 yard sale find...small, dark, round and laminate-over-particle board.  Then our neighbor gave us 3 chairs she had trash picked.  They were light pine and half painted white.  My parents gave us another random green chair.  This was our first house and I tried to make it feel like home.  I covered it with a table cloth and a seasonal centerpiece and most people didn't notice that the chairs didn't match the table or each other.  Or maybe they were just being nice.

Then I had kids and now we can't get through a meal without a spill.  Goodbye tablecloth, and the centerpieces were replaced with a basket of napkins.  Then one Christmas we were given a new table from our in-laws.  It is a light pine color with a white tile top.  It even came with matching chairs!  But, it seated four and our family was growing.  We found a rustic, old bench at a thrift store.  It needs to be refinished, but I think that adds to the charm.  We hid it behind the table and can squeeze 4 kids on it.

Our kitchen table has served us well.  It has hosted Thanksgiving dinners and PB&J lunches.  It's held science experiments and art projects.  It's where we've studied the Word of God and gathered in prayer.

It's not really my style, it's got a few cracks and scratches and stray crayon marks, but it's where we meet daily to be a family.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

"Unless the Lord builds a house they labor in vain." ~ Psalm 127:1

7 Years ago we started on a journey that we thought would only take a few months.  This journey has taken up most of our marriage and is all our children have ever known.  My mother-in-law lives on acres of wooded property and had always dreamed of sharing it with her boys.  While her sons were growing the laws were changing and restrictions were put on her land.  Her sons married and moved on.

We had been married a little over a year, with a new baby and renting a cramped one bedroom cottage.  Money was tight, we were completely unprepared for real life and found ourselves losing hope of ever getting out of this hole.   I had done some research and found a loophole in the land restrictions.  My curiosity grew as I realized we fit all the requirements for the grandfather clause.  We prayed and felt such peace and excitement that we decided to pursue it.

We knew that we would have to apply for subdivision approval and there would be many fees along the way.  We moved in with my parents thinking it would be a few months and we could save up the money we needed.  Our temporary living arrangement turned into a year and a half.

There were delays and disappointments, piles of bills for engineers and surveyors, tractor rentals and soil testing.  We were trying to do a major subdivision to turn one lot into four, and ultimately had to hire a lawyer to get us through all the red tape. 

Over the years we have tried to be patient, but we never put our life on hold.  We moved into a small house during my 2nd pregnancy, again thinking it was temporary, and have brought 4 babies home here.  As our family grew, this little house has become smaller and we have had to be creative to make it fit our needs.

I've learned a huge lesson in patience and contentment through these years.  I know that God had His perfect timing through it all.  Our needs and wants in a home have changed so much since we started this journey.  I know we weren't ready then.

Yesterday, our modular home was finally delivered to our lot.  It is not yet set on the foundation, but it's our home.  As we walked through it, I could picture the kids helping me cook in our new kitchen.  I could imagine where we would put our Christmas tree, but mostly I saw a new life for us.  A life full of new excitement after years of waiting.

I am still in shock.  It doesn't seem real that it is actually happening.  We've talked and prayed and dreamed for so long and now it is hear.  I know this is not the end of our journey.  It is just the beginning of a whole new adventure.

Friday, September 24, 2010

"How do you do it?"

   I have 5 children age 7 and under.  I get asked his question every time I leave my house.  I may look like I have it altogether as I walk into the pediatrician's office with a sleeping baby in her car seat, a toddler on my hip and 3 more holding hands and filing in behind me. 

   The truth is:  I'm freaking out on the inside.  I know that at any moment that sweet little baby will want her milk NOW, the toddler is staking out his escape route and the older ones will need to use the bathroom...right after we left the bathroom...for the 3rd time.  In the midst of my own crazy life I have strangers reminding me that I have a lot of children because I some how must have missed that.  Then the questions start...

I don't do it all.  At the moment there are Cheerio landmines all over my kitchen floor and laundry left to stink in the washer.  My oldest didn't do his math today and I haven't even thought about dinner.  Some days are better than others.

Having a larger family, I've found that we need to live our life a little bit differently than the average sized family.  And I am constantly trying to find what works for us.  It's a work in progress, but I think that's why I'm here, to share my little bits of wisdom that I've learned along the way, to make this crazy life just a little less...crazy.  I'm striving for simplicity in all things.
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