Tuesday, May 28, 2013

A Slice of Our Life:Entertaining Littles During the School Day

Homeschooling is not an easy task to begin with. Homeschooling with 6 littles in the house is even more of a chore. When there are more children that AREN'T in school than there are that ARE in school it can very quickly become a madhouse if I'm not prepared to deal with them once we start school. This year I've really switched my focus to them more than on my school age kids. I KNOW I will get to school work, but if I cater my day to the little ones I can almost always have a more successful day with the big ones.
So, what do we do? The answer is quite easy-BUSY WORK!
I have this closet under my stairs. We call it the quiet closet. Not because we put bad kids in there when they need to be quiet! Ha! Because everything in this closet is made to be played quietly with. Now that doesn't mean they won't find a way to be noisy, but I keep the littles moving so that they don't get bored with what they are doing.
This corner of the closet has all of our craft supplies and also hold lacing dolls and magnetic paper dolls.

This is their little coloring caddy. Olivia got this as a birthday gift, and it's such a great little tool.

This is where I store construction paper, old magazines, and paper scraps. I had just cleaned it out after we finished school this year, so it's all fresh and clean to start next year.

This is the other corner. This is where I store all of our games, puzzles, and busy learning toys as well as a few other craft supplies.
 This top shelf also has all of our puppets(in that purple bag and on stands). Be sure to use those reusable bags for organizing stuff. They are so handy!

This is an upclose picture of the puzzles. I'm hoping to get some of the shoe box sized storage boxes to put the floor puzzles in soon.

I also get them involved in whatever ways I can in our regular school day. If I'm doing an experiment I'll give them a simple job, if I'm doing math I'll give them counting bears or tangrams, if I'm doing history I'll give them a color sheet that goes along with our lesson. Don't underestimate their ability to listen while coloring!! There have been so many times when my littles will remember something my big kids didn't because they were sitting at the table coloring while I was teaching.
I also have them do a lot of story narration. That's where I'll read a story to them, then have them retell me the story. You'd be surprised with how many details even the littles ones can remember. It's good to stretch their little minds and keep them busy. It also gets them interested in stories, which is another way I keep my little kids busy while I'm working. I introduce books to them from the time they are having tummy time as newborns, and ALL of my kids LOVE to read or at least LOOK at books now. Start out with books they can't rip(board or foam books. I usually get mine from the dollar store so it's OK if they get chewed! Target also has a good selection in their one spot section). As they learn to be responsible with their things introduce other books. New books, library books, picture books, word books. BOOKS! They will learn to sit quietly and look. When they have one they'd really like me to read aloud to them I'll have them put it up on the table, then when I'm free I'll have them come sit on my lap and read it to them as a reward for sitting patiently.
For littles under 2 I use my pack-n-play with toys that they only get to play with while they are in there. I also put their lovie and a paci in there in case they get ready to rest. There have been a few times when my baby will sleep in there while we do school.
I usually hold the littlest baby in a sling while I teach. You can still have hands free and teach and the baby has no idea you aren't holding them. Amelia lived much of her life in a moby while I was teaching. My sling of choice is the Moby because there are so many ways to use it. Find a sling that fits comfortably for you and go to town! You'd be surprised at what you can do with a baby in a sling!
If ALL else fails, I will also get the kids out back-up toys upstairs in the playroom. That's for in the case of getting out of control I can send them upstairs to play while I'm getting important things done(like delivering a math lesson). Remember that you homeschool in your HOME. You want to make the process comfortable for EVERYONE. Even those littles. They shouldn't be seen as the problem or a distraction. View them as the blessing that they are. Change your perspective and see life through THEIR eyes. Curb your school day to fit their needs. I promise this will help your day go smoothly, and increase your teaching time with older kids too! Enjoy the summer, and get those quiet closets ready for next year!!!

Thursday, May 23, 2013

A Slice of Our World: What's in the Middle of Clean and Dirty?

I had a reader ask about how I keep my house clean. I always kind of smirk at this question, because truth be known my house is rarely ever actually CLEAN. However, it always APPEARS to be clean. Get down and rub your finger across my baseboards and you're almost always going to have dust. Same goes for my fans, cabinets, and door frames. BUT, in this stage of my life I have learned to be OK with that. Now, I'm NOT OK with clutter or messiness.  Keeping a junk/clutter free house means that you often have to go through and weed out your STUFF. Making sure that everything has a place to call home is a must. If your stuff doesn't have a place you almost always can either sell it or chunk it. Learning to maintain my home was the BEST lesson I ever learned. A maintained home generally takes about 10-15 minutes to get "cleaned." Usually less if your whole family pitches in. The process of getting it maintainable will take some time, but once it's ready it can stay that way!! As I've gotten to this point(having six kids and all), I've learned to be OK if I go two weeks or sometimes even more(I know, GASP!!) between cleanings. My advice is do what works and stop stressing about it. I've already written quite a lot about this topic. If you haven't ever read through my "Insiders Scoop" I'd recommend it. That's where you'll find a lot of my tips on daily living. Here are a few specific posts that may interest you...

Random tips for keeping a "clean house" can be found here.
My thoughts on having a CLEAN AND HAPPY house are here.
My thoughts on having little people help keep a tidy home are here.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

A Slice of Our World: Menu Planning/Grocery Shopping

I'm just now starting to get to the requests for the Slice of Our World series. If you'd like to know something about how we do things just leave a comment below and I'll add it to my list.
I wanted to start with our menu planning and grocery shopping because it's probably the toughest request, and the rest will seem really easy. Ha!
Meal planning is ever evolving for me. Sometimes I have several meals that I rotate out(usually in the fall with chili, lasagna, etc.). Sometimes I have certain things on certain days(like spaghetti Friday or Taco Tuesday). Then sometimes, it's just make what is easy so you can survive this stage of life.
Honestly, I've gone from one end of the spectrum to the other with being health conscious. When we were first married I bought those terrible pre-cooked chicken breasts, can soup, capn crunch, and ramen noodles. That was meal planning for me. I DID NOT cook! Any cooking we did came from Manly, who, lets just face it, was no Emeril either. We ate TERRIBLE food and were very unhealthy. Then, during our stay in NW AR I went to a Bible study on being makers of the home. It TOTALLY changed my life forever. I not only taught myself to cook after that, but I got us back in shape, got us eating healthier, and put together my daily plan, which, for the most part, I've stuck with all these years later.
In recent years I made most all of our things from scratch. That's such a wonderful thing to do! If you have time to do that and enjoy it, then DO IT! If you are like me, and you were KILLING yourself to try to get everything made, DON'T SWEAT IT! These littles aren't going to fall over dead because you gave them store bought bread with their pb&j. They're more likely to fall over dead because mommy is too tired to watch them and they run out in the street. Just my opinion... We eat healthily, but I don't go overboard. I make some things that I enjoy from scratch, but don't worry if I have to buy whole grain bread at the store instead of making it at home. Yes, I know it loses nutrients, but I was losing my MIND trying to keep up with people who had half as many children as we do or children who were much older to help. Read this: DO WHAT WORKS FOR YOU and let others thing what they will. It's no skin off your back!
I have gone from scanning cookbooks to scanning the internet for ideas and recipes. My favorites are cooks.com, allrecipes.com, and The Biggest Loser Family Cookbook. I love allrecipes.com because not only do they have great recipes, but they show when ingredients are on sale at our local stores! Love that. When I'm planning a menu(which I do two weeks at a time.) I always first look at our local store ads and current Kroger coupons. I don't clip coupons because I don't have time, but I do load my Kroger card with the online coupons from their website. Once I know what is on sale I will build a menu from that. I always do breakfast, 2 snacks, lunch, and dinner.
Pardon my short hand and messy writing. I've done these on the computer all fancy, but I just really like making them on my own better. I always use a pencil so that I can change it out if I need to.
The kids almost always have the same lunches each week. This is mostly because Olivia makes lunch for them, and these are the meals she likes to make, and also meals that everyone for the most part, enjoys. I switch them up sometimes, but for the most part it stays the same. Snacks always change up. I get almost all of my snack ideas from superhealthykids.com. I HIGHLY recommend looking in depth at their site. They have all sorts of fun ideas for snacks and lunches. I'm not crazy about some of their ideas for dinner, but everything else is fun and mostly really easy. Lots of smoothie recipes too.
As I'm making my menu I'm also making my grocery list.

Again, sorry for my short hand. Obviously it doesn't matter, I'm sure you get the point, but I'll just put "salsa" on my list and know that really means I need to get the things to make salsa. I also mark items I have coupons for. At this point in my planning I've already done a pantry/deep freeze/fridge search to make sure what all we have and need as far as staples like salt, butter, bread.
We go to the store as a family most of the time, which is probably harder, but I like it that way and feel like it teaches the kids not only that we don't always get what we want, but also a real sense of being a good steward of our money. They help us find the best deals on an item, and they LOVE being part of finding items and putting them in the cart. Since we go as a family I have recently started making two lists. A Momma list and a Daddy list. I usually take the outside of the store for things like fresh produce and dairy. Manly gets the things on the inside of the store. We each take three kids, and we're off! Sometimes we let the kids have their own small carts, and other times we just have them walk beside us.
For breakfast we rotate between eggs, toast, and fruit, parfaits, oatmeal, and the occasional cheerios with bananas. On Saturday's we always have something fun like strawberry pancakes or monkey bread. On Sunday's we ALWAYS have cinnamon rolls. It's a tradition we started several years back, and now all the kids expect it. I rotate between a few of the same meals for lunch, or have leftovers. When I'm making a menu I always try to think about what we'll be doing on that evening. For instance, if I know I'll need to be at church for praise team practice by 5:30, I will put something simple on that night or put something that can be cooked in the crock pot. Making a menu is only HALF of it! You have to actually stick to it! Once you have the menu made you can always change it up and mix up when you make things, but be sure your switch works, and you aren't making a switch you can't stick with.
Once I finish the menu I put it in a page protector so that it stays safe from splashes and water, and I can make notes with a dry erase marker if needed.

I used to put it on the side of the fridge, but now that KK can read I put it up on top of the microwave so she can't see it because that girl is NUTS about food and she was obsessing about what we would have for each meal. This way Manly and I can see it, but she forgets about it most of the time and doesn't bug me about meals.
Know that once I've made my menu and grocery list I never buy anything that isn't on it UNLESS there just happens to be a CRAZY sale once I get there. For instance once while I was shopping they had the overstock bread on sale for 75% off and I stocked up and just put it in the deep freeze. I always buy larger packs of meat and separate it out into meal sized portions. Once I've done that I'll either prepare it or freeze it. I generally buy whatever fresh produce is on sale that week, so if apples are on sale I'll buy a lot of them. If peaches are on sale I get a ton of those instead. This not only changes up what produce you eat, but also saves a TON of money. Buying only off the grocery list will also save you a bundle. It may be hard to start with, but you'll find it getting easier and easier. We do a two week menu because that's how often Manly gets paid, but you could do a 1 week schedule, 10 day, or what we used to do 30 day. That was a BEAST, but I saved so much money!!
So, here are my random thoughts that I've not already said:
Mostly, I say do what works! Stick to it! Involve the family(ask them what they like that you cook)! Try to have something that each person will eat in your meals. If you have picky eaters that won't eat a lot of what everyone else likes have at least one side that the picky eater likes. You'll be surprised how much other food they might "accidentally" eat. Never make more than one meal for your family. I promise those littles won't go hungry. When they really get hungry they'll eat SOMETHING. Have FUN!

Bye Bye...Until Next Time

Today we said bye-bye to our fabulous sitter, Tori. She's been with us for almost two years. She's been so dependable, and responsible. She's not only creative with ways to play with the kids, but she often brings her own things from home to share with the kids. She's been such a blessing to me. Being able to have Wednesday mornings free is so fantastic, and has kept me feeling human in the midst  of so many littles and so little time alone. Finding a high school student who is willing to keep my 5 littles at one time was a huge undertaking! Tori has been not only a great sitter, but a god friend for our kids. She has helped them learn verses for AWANA, taught them to play board games, read to them, helped them read, and fed them snacks and lunch. We will miss her DEARLY, but plan to still see her from time to time as she starts her new journey-COLLEGE! We love you Tori!
Today as she was leaving Isaiah said, "Bye-Bye, Ms. Tori! We'll see you next week!" and Tori said, "No. But I'll see you next time." So, bye-bye Tori. We'll see you next time.
The kids with their sweet Ms. Tori

Friday, May 10, 2013

Same Same

I was changing Mia's diaper on our changing station in the bathroom. She was fake smiling at herself in the mirror. I said, "You are so silly!" She said, "Momma! You do it!" So, I fake smiled at her. She LAUGHED and said, "Momma! You Same Same, MIA!" So, I told her we needed a picture to prove it. I've decided she's right. Mia and Momma have the same fake smile.
Oh how I love the little person coming out of this sweet baby!

Thursday, May 9, 2013

They Say Time Changes Things

But I say they just stay the same. LOVE these pictures. None of which were staged. AND, I could eat tiny Isaiah with a spoon! Mia quite obviously has one of the sweetest smiles ever! Eli is a beautiful baby!

2011(Isaiah and Mia)

2013(Mia and Eli)
2011(Isaiah and Mia)
2013(Mia and Eli)

2011(Isaiah and Mia)
2013(Mia and Eli)

2011(Isaiah and Mia)

2013(Mia andEli)
2011(Isaiah and Mia)
2013(Mia and Eli)


Home Brewed Smittle: On the News!!

We were asked to take part in an interview on homebirth that aired last night on our local news station! We were honored to be asked and feel blessed to be sharing our sweet homebirth story with others. While a lot of what we said was edited down for a 90 second story, it's still a really sweet news story with lots of our amazing birth photos! We were pleased with the way it turned out.
I can't get it on my blog, but you can go watch it here! Thanks so much to our community for the support and for cheering us on in this chapter of our life. We feel so much love from you guys!

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Mia's Very Hungry Caterpillar Party!

My Mia LOVES to read! Loves it! Well, since I can remember(which isn't that far back these days) I've been wanting to do a Very Hungry Caterpillar party(based on the book by Eric Carle). Because parties are a pretty big deal around here the kids always want to outdo each other on ideas, so they'll never let ME decide what their party theme is. When it was getting close to Mia's birthday I thought I'd start pushing the idea of a hungry caterpillar party so that MAYBE she'd warm up to it. She took it hook line and sinker!
To start off, I made buttery BUTTERFLY sugar cookies. I did the same method with these cookies as we did with our Christmas cookies.

They turned out really cute. I put them in baggies, tied them with cute tags and put them in a bucket next to the door for guests to grab as they left.
For the cake I had planned to use a bundt pan and cut the cake in halves, but Mia is a cup cake girl, and she REALLY wanted to have "up-tates"at her party, so I decided to do cupcakes instead. I'm sure it was easier anyway. I used several shades of of green, a little blue, and a tad of yellow together in the icing bag to create the watercolor look of the cupcakes. I thought they turned out pretty good. I used rolled fondant for the head and face detail. I used tootsie rolls for the legs and chenille stems for the antenna. I thought it turned out pretty cute! We just arranged it on the table with some green shred.


The party food was really easy! In the book the caterpillar eats lots of kinds of fruit. I just made cute little food tags from the book with paper behind it and piled plates high with fruit. It turned out really cute!

I didn't want to have all the junk food that the caterpillar eats, so I just printed it out and put it on the table. It looked cute on the table with matching paper.
I also provided cream cheese fruit dip and everyone's favorite NUTELLA for the fruit. Other foods included fruity pebbles(because I thought it looked really cute in my apothecary jars) and pretzel rods. I served a kiwi strawberry green punch.
For decorations I wanted to keep it simple but CUTE! I think it turned out great. The table ware was on sale at Target. I thought the bright colors with the white was great to go with the book. The napkins were polkadot, and I just used green plates and clear cups.
I made this banner with three shades of green cardstock, red cardstock, black cardstock, and yellow cardstock along with purple chenille stems. I printed out the font I wanted to use and my sweet Manly used a paint pen and wrote the letters in. I thought it turned out REALLY cute!! 

A close up shot of him. So cute!

I used the same centerpiece for the dining room table as I did for the owl shower I gave my cousin.

The colors weren't quite right, it still looked cute.
This beauty was SO cute! I got the paper lanterns from hobby Lobby and Manly just hang them close together to create a caterpillar. The face was just glued on with a glue stick so that the lanterns could be used again. We just hung the feet on the bottom of the lanterns. Turned out SO cute!! Just how I wanted it. I hung the crepe paper on a strip of packing tape behind the table. It looked really cool and made the caterpillar stand out nicely.

As my backup plan I had decided to do balloons, but since Manly was able to make my paper lantern caterpillar work I just decided to keep my package of $.87 balloons and create an additional caterpillar on the stairs. I was a real eye catcher when you walked in the door. The kids loved it too!(note to parents:Any time you are using balloons indoors PLEASE beware that children choke on them REALLY easily. I had these up out of reach, but a popped balloon is one of the biggest choking hazards to a child. Just be really careful!) 
My old faithful birthday wreath. I just printed out the letters in the font that matched the invitations(which I forgot to take a picture of) and the birthday banner. I also added a little picture of the caterpillar with matching paper from the food table.
My Mia looking all grown in front of the table. She LOVED her stuff and looked SO cute in Addi's dress from her third birthday. 

I don't know that I've mentioned it before, but in public Mia is VERY painfully shy. She doesn't talk much, and it really is almost like it's painful for her to speak in front of some people. Now, once she's warmed up to you and knows you she's fine. Because there was a big crowd at the party she was a little nervous when we all started singing to her. Ha!

See?? Poor girl!

She did manage to blow out her candle though and then promptly said, "up-tates!!!!"

Momma and Daddy with the big birthday girl! It's REALLY hard to believe that she's TWO!
I should mention that poor Manly thought he was matching us. Yes, in purple. Who knows. You do know he's color blind, right?! Ha! Poor guy!
After food Manly read the story to the kids. It was a hit!
A few other pictures from the special day!
Mia asked for doughnuts for her birthday breakfast. It's a REALLY special treat for our kids!
Mia in her Merida outfit from Nana and Pop. She LOVES Merida, and really needed some princess outfits that were her size and not torn up to go to Disney World soon.  
My Granny(Gigi) with me and Mia in her Merida dress. So cute!

Manly and Me. It took a lot of times to finally get him to just smile for the camera!

Manly wishing he could wear this CUTE outfit to Disney World.
Nana, Pop, and Gigi watching Mia open presents.
The kids love their cousin Harrison. He's such a sweet child.
This is him hugging Mia before he left the party.

Chubby Bubby having his own after-party!!

AND, our family!
 So many of you are always talking about how we have great family photos. That's because before I have them smile I let them do this to get them happy! HaHa! Look, even Eli is in on the action!! Thanks to my tripod and camera timer for catching these moments. Ha!