Monday, May 30, 2016

May 2016 In Our Home

28 months old & 11 months old!
     May feels to have gone by so quickly. For the most part, we simply enjoyed our days together! We've finally reached a point of settling into our new normal here in TX and calming down from the chaos of the move. 
  We were able to move on from our very simplified schedule into our normal full schedule. It is such a blessing to have this kind of order in our home and days! We're able to maintain the utmost use of our time and maintain our relationships so much better with a good schedule. I am certainly much less stressed and overwhelmed by having additional order and structure. The children, in turn, also demonstrate more pleasant behavior. 

   One tool we added this month to help in implementing a schedule again was the purchase of a play yard. At two years old, Tennyson has outgrown a pack n' play. Yet, there are many moments in which a boundary is still necessary. We decided to invest in a play yard, which would give him greater space but yet still provide the desired boundary. However, both children have enjoyed playing in it! I will place several toys and books in it, and they each individually or collectively will play nicely within it. This has allowed me to be able to accomplish housecleaning, cooking or other necessary tasks with little disruption. It has also been a wonderful tool for keeping the house tidier. Toys and playtime are contained within this space instead of being brought out and left in the rest of the house. I'm not wasting as much of my time and energy constantly tidying messing made all over the house. The play yard also provides Annelise a safe place to practice her pulling up and cruising skills without concern of falls against the hard tile floors in the rent house. (phew!)

     Warm May weather has beckoned us to enjoy as much time as possible outside! (Though, it's taking some getting used to needing to coat all of us in sunscreen and bugspray each time we go out to play! haha.) The children absolutely love being outside! The prospect of having an outdoor space and agreeable weather for the children to play each day was one of the appeals of moving to TX. I want my children to experience the freedom and exploration of outside play! It's not good for them (or me) to be inside all the time. And so, we've tried to go out for a morning walk around the neighborhood, have time for play in the space around the house, or in a nearby playground most days. I'm eagerly anticipating the day in which we'll have a nice, safe backyard for the children to spend time in each day!

      That wait won't be too long because.... we bought a house! We've been looking for several weeks. We debated between purchasing a house at a lower price but would need some work, or purchasing one at a higher price that would need little work. We determined that didn't want to spend so much of our time and energy saving up for a project, working on the project, and then moving on to yet another project. We also didn't want to live in a mess with two little ones. We wanted to simply be able to enjoy our time together and space within our home. So, when we looked at one house in particular we fell in love. Not only did it offer us the space we desired, but it had also be very well taken care of by the previous owners. There are a few minor improvements we'd like to make, such as painting one room with wood paneling and knocking out a built-in shelf/cabinet in the dining room which would allow for a larger table, but for the most part it's complete. It's such a lovely, cozy family room (the feel I immediately got when we walked through it). The backyard is beautiful and will be a wonderful playspace for the children and gardening space for us. One of my favorite parts is that it has both an eat-in kitchen and a formal dining room. We plan to convert the formal dining room into a homeschool/office/guest room. I have the design in mind already! I'm so excited to actually be able to decorate and add touches that we couldn't have done as renters. This will be our home! Oh, how grateful I am to the Lord for His provision! 
A sample of one week of our "tot school" activities.
Love M is for Monster and Character First!
     In the meanwhile, we're continuing life in the rent house. We've really gotten into a nice routine with "tot school." This month was our first M is for Monster box, and we have loved it! Many of the activities are a bit advanced for Tennyson, but we've still enjoyed having the time together and exploring something new each day. This month's themes were: farmer's market (fruits & vegetables), flowers, and baseball. I purchased books to coincide with the theme units: How Does Your Garden Grow by Annie North Bedford (already had), Planting a Rainbow by Lois Ehlert, and Little Baseball by Brad Herzog and Doug Bowles. We read the book and completed a related activity on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, we completed a lesson from Character First. This month we focused on patience. We listened to the song or poem. I discussed the character quality, definition and the components of that quality (the "I Will" statements). Then, we completed a simple craft or coloring page. On occasion, we'd hear him say the definition (patience- waiting without getting upset) or ask for the song/poem. Pretty neat to see these lessons being learned! He's soaking everything up, and I'm so enjoying our time together. I certainly feel more confident in homeschooling (...soon!).

      I believe teaching our children through homeschooling is going to be also reteaching me! I've needed that frequent lesson on patience. This month has also provided lessons in faith. I began a couple of practices which have been so uplighting for my spirit.

      First, I began putting greater effort into reading the Bible each day. I have been using a printed sheet for "Reading the Bible In Chronological Order in a Year" as a guide. I look forward to this time each day! It's difficult to know God if you're not in His Word. There are so many resources available that are spiritually encouraging and instructional, but without first-hand knowledge of the Bible and personal relationship with the Lord these resources can easily lead one astray. (I believe that is why there is such disagreement and un-Christlike behavior among Christians. So few Christians have actually read the Bible cover to cover, and instead settle for extracted passages and interpretations). My goal is now to continue reading the Bible each year cover to cover. Is God not so great to deserve such effort and devotion?

Bedtime stories with Daddy are the best!
Tennyson will say, "Read stories, Daddy" or "Read stories, Mama"
Just precious!
     I've also been reading Own Your Life by Sally Clarkson. I've heard so much about Clarkson's books, podcasts, and other materials. This is the first of her works that I have read. Although, I aimed to have it finished by the end of the month, I'm far enough along in it to conclude that it will be one of my favorite books on my bookshelf and referenced often. The pages of my book are filled with underlining and notes in the margin! She very clearly is a woman who has diligently sought to gain wisdom and grow in faith as she's journeyed in life. I pray that my own life and journey would reflect such a legacy! Coincidentally, she is currently recording a Podcast on the various subject matters contained within the book. These "shows" have become a favorite of mine to listen to and be encouraged as I wash dishes in the afternoons during naptime. 

    Another spiritual encouragement has been finding a church home. We've visited churches every Sunday since we moved here. We were captured by one church in particular, and have enjoyed attending many times since. We've been confident that this particular place and people will be a suitable church home for our family. The members have been the most friendly and welcoming. We're looking forward to inviting families for dinner or moms and children for playdates once we're moved into our new home. I'm hopeful for the friendships we might build here and the ministry that may be accomplished. 

     The children continue to mature at a rapid pace. Annelise is crawling everywhere, pulling up on any surface within reach, and beginning to cruise as well. She's very eager to actually chase big brother! She's made great strides in sleeping well in her own bed during naps and nighttime. The sleep has been tremendous for us all! She still refuses traditional baby foods in preference for the foods that the rest of the family eats. She may only have two little teeth, but she gums it all down anyways! Her personality continues to come out, and she tends to be quite loud and rambunctious (two things her brother absolutely isn't!). But, her liveliness brings such delight to us all. I can't help but smile and laugh at her antics! She's demonstrating more and more behaviors and appearance of a young toddler instead of an infant. It's hard to believe she will be a year old next month!

     Confession- my heart is excited to see her grow and accomplish milestones, but so saddened to lose having a baby. To be fully honest, I've struggled greatly with that finality this month. I desire additional children, but the reality of the difficulties and pain of carrying with so many complications and high-risk care are great. We've talked of adoption from time to time, but aren't confident of that calling either just yet as that path is also very complicated and long. It's an ache, a grieving and a prayer currently.  

    In the meanwhile, I'm learning everyday how better to manage myself, our home, and the children we have presently. It truly is a learning process! It's also a matter of faith to maintain purposefulness and joy it all. Together, I've found greater delight and joy in our home and family this past month. 

    Next month will be very busy for our family. I hope to continue a weekly post, but I can't be certain I will have the opportunity to accomplish that. I will, however, update the Facebook page regularly since I can do that will far greater convenience and time than I can write a full post. Until then... :)
These two are best friends! To watch our children enjoy each other brings so much sweetness to my mama-heart!

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Creative Home Storage: Bookshelf Pantry

     *Note: Portions of this post were moved from my original blog page. Thus, the different web address printed on the images. It would take me far longer to find and re-edit all the images to display this blog site than to simply leave them as is and include a disclaimer. The post on the original blog will now redirect to this page.*


         When we moved into our former townhome, I instantly fell in love with the open floor plan. It wasn't long, however, that I discovered that the downside of the lack of walls was inadequate storage in the kitchen. Our dishes and cookware consumed all cabinets leaving us to think creatively for an alternate storage solution for all food items. Fortunately, we had a large open wall within the kitchen area available that we could work with in creating a pantry space.  

      A delightful trip to Ikea quickly provided that perfect solution in the form of bookshelves! What I love about these particular shelves is that they are available in a half size. We initially had a half size shelf and a full size shelf. Then, we expanded to having two half size shelves on either side of the full size shelf. (We did this so that we could move all items previously on the bottom shelves up so that curious little ones wouldn't empty it themselves). The shelves were perfect for our space in the townhome! I have really fallen in love with the idea of displaying the pantry in a kitchen or even a dining room space. 

     There are a few key elements necessary for having an open pantry. The first is to always keep in mind that the bookshelf pantry not only serves the purpose of functional storage, but also display. Disorganization and clutter are not suitable for an open pantry. You want to maintain a uniformity with the look but also add elements of interest. I've used six different storage containers for our pantry:

Click image to view larger

     I enjoy that all the containers stack and all items are only one layer deep. Everything in our pantry is easily accessible and does not require any searching or digging. The 3-tier spice shelves were used for a similar purpose. I particularly enjoy the color and freshness of glass bowls used for fruits and baskets used for potatoes, onions, and garlic, and tomatoes. The separate produce containers also keep items (like apples and pineapples) from speeding up the ripening rate of other produce items. (A tip learned from experience- line the tomato basket with a plastic produce bag in case one goes bad). 

     The next aspect of creating a bookshelf pantry is to keep foods fairly basic. We shop for only what we need in a week (vs. stocking up) which keeps the storage needs of the pantry low. We also limit varieties. For instance, we buy one type of cereal at a time which is stored in a designated container. We buy one type of chip, pretzel or cracker etc. Another strategy is to limit the "just add water" or other prefab meals or foods. In the past, I made much more from scratch. Over time, I had learned to create a large variety of foods that are typically packaged foods. For example, I made and stored Cream of Anything mix instead of buying the individual cans. David made homemade bread, and I would later create breadcrumbs from it. I also made homemade granola instead of buying boxed cereal. Yogurt was made homemade as well. However, my time these days is a quite a bit more limited with two children two years old and under. I try to maintain a balance between packaged and homemade. A limited pantry space for storing packaged foods is a good aid in continuing to make as much as possible homemade!

       A smaller pantry space can also be advantageous for the budget. By only keeping certain items in the pantry, I know exactly which dry goods need to be replaced, where to purchase, and at what price to purchase. While other areas of grocery spending may change, I can depend on this area to be fairly consistent. 

A more descriptive view of our original bookshelf pantry:

( Some flours like whole wheat flour are stored in the refrigerator. Other dry goods like flaxseed meal, seeds and nuts are stored in the freezer. Also, I keep the bulk of our home canned items in the basement, and only keep a few of each kind in the kitchen at one time)
     We've since moved out of that townhome and into a rental house until our own house purchase is complete. The rental house kitchen is quite small, but fortunately we've been able to set up our bookshelf pantry here as well. Creating a bookshelf pantry has not only provided us a functional pantry space, but also taught me how to think creatively in utilizing our small spaces instead of allowing discontentment to take root. It is possible to make a small space work well for one's family! I have enjoyed having an open pantry so much that I will actually miss having it in our new home! 


Thursday, May 12, 2016

Recipe Organization

All our recipe binders stacked on a shelf in our bookshelf pantry.

     Every family has a collection of favorite recipes. Ours are housed in four 1-inch binders! If there is a recipe that we've made, enjoyed, and might make again I will store a copy of it in one of the binders. When it comes time to make a meal, I don't want to waste my time searching online or in a recipe book for a recipe. The binder system allows me to quickly find exactly what I'm needing. Our binder recipe system is quite nicely organized presently, but it took a bit of time and work to get it that way. As with most things, there is a process to create it to fit me and my family precisely. That process has involved finding resources for recipes, organizing the recipes themselves, organizing the binders, and the extention potential for recipe binders.

     A vast majority of our recipes come from Eating Well. They have such wonderfully healthy recipes with a wide variety of ingredients and flavors. Although the magazine is beautiful and affordable, I prefer the convenience of printing out desired recipes and adding them to the binders. Other recipes are from a few cookbooks we have or from other sites on the internet. (If the recipe is from a cookbook, I will either make a copy or handwrite the recipe onto a piece of paper to add it to our binders so that I don't have to guess which cookbook it came from or flip through the entire cookbook to find it again). I've learned one way to reduce how many unused recipes or books collect is by writing the date acquired on the recipe, and then periodically toss unused recipes (if the season or even year has passed and the recipe is still sitting in waiting, then just go ahead and toss it out!).

      In my experience, simple binders make the best means for organizing recipes. Although there are some lovely pre-made recipe binders and books available, I find that a generic binder and tabs are best as they allow for complete customization. I used to keep all of our recipes in one large 3-inch binder. However, the binder was very heavy to lift on and off the shelf, wore out quickly, and was rather cumbersome to flip through. I then decided to break the binder up into four smaller 1-inch binders. I now only have to lift and flip through a much smaller selection at a time! Each of my binders contain about five categories, which keeps the size managable and able to be easily expanded. The sections include:

  • Menu plans
  • Guides (organic vs. conventional, types of oils, safe seafood etc)
  • Beef
  • Beverages (mostly smoothies)
  • Breakfasts
  • Breads
  • Canning
  • Desserts
  • Fish/Seafood
  • Meatless
  • Sides
  • Slow Cooker
  • Snacks
  • Soups
  • 30 Min. (mostly quesadillas, which we have each Sunday night)
  • Pizza (a Friday night usual for us)
  • Pork
  • Poultry
  • Salads
  • Sauces/seasonings/condiments
  • Kids (recipes for play dough etc)

     The recipes themselves are stored in clear sheet protectors. The sheet protectors are essential if you want to keep your recipes from potentially getting ruined during the cooking process. I can also snap the ones we'll use for the week out of the binders to have them on hand as we need them, which cuts down even more on any wasted time. (Tip: Keep extra sheet protectors in each binder. That will make adding recipes easy and keep them from piling up in the binder pockets!)

    Recipes waiting to be tried can be kept in the tabbed dividers (if you purchased pocket dividers) or a single sheet protector at the front of each section. I'm careful to not keep too many recipes I haven't tried in the binders as the main design and purpose of the binders is to store only tried and true recipes and be a quick reference when preparing meals. 

     If there are any desired alterations to the recipe, I'll write that on the printed sheet. Since we purposely repeat the dinner meal one night to be lunch the next day, I frequently need to adjust the written proportions to serve 6-8. If I try to make the adjustments while cooking, then I'm likely to get the proportions of the ingredients mixed up. Best to just write adjustments on the recipe sheet for future reference instead of ruining dinner when hungry bellies are waiting! 

     Not only does this recipe binder system work really well for us for storage and meal preparation purposes, but it can also be extended for a couple other fun purposes. On one occasion, I made created a single recipe binder with copies of several of our favorite recipes and packed it up with an apron for a newlywed gift. Many newlyweds nowadays have very little knowledge or experience in preparing meals (I was one of them!). 

     I also intend to create a couple of memory recipe books for our children. They will each have their own book that is filled with recipes that pertain to them as well as a picture or a note. For example, for my son's book there will be a copy of the banana cake recipe that I made him for his first birthday as well as a photo of the event. Photos or journal notes of us cooking together or he/she enjoying a particular meal are wonderful occasions to include.  It will be so fun to look back on these books to the foods and moments that we enjoyed when they were a year old, five years old, nine years etc. Perhaps, the books will be given to them and their spouses when they marry (and I, of course, keep a copy for my own keepsakes!). 

Other Posts In This Series:
-Bookshelf Pantry
-Menu Planning

-Grocery Shopping

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

April 2016 In Our Home

My wonderful family!
We did a couple of fun family activities this month- We packed some popcorn and spread out sleeping bags in the back of the Sorento, and then enjoyed a drive-in movie! We also enjoyed spending one Saturday morning at the local zoo! These occasions can be a bit stressful, but they always create such wonderful memories of us together! :)

She's pulling up on every surface to stand!
 (Rather cute  to walk in to the room to
see her standing at the edge of the bed waiting for me)
    I found a graphic online that says, "Be the Mom you want them to remember." Nothing I do or provide for my children will be near as valuable as who I am. That's been my focus for this month. I started being much more intentional about spending a little time each day reading Bible passages, devotionals and blog posts that I've found meaningful and encouraging. I'm an introspective kind of individual, and contemplating these materials is rejuvenating to my soul. I'm also a "write it or forget it" kind of person, and so I've taken each article or passage and written notes from it into a notebook. Writing is my way of processing, I suppose. (I also enjoy talking, but as an introvert only a lucky few get to experience my chatty side!). It's been a wonderful practice that I look forward to each day.
     I've enjoyed it so much that I decided to begin Facebook Live stream videos to share these bits of wisdom and encouragement. Those to two entities I'm always in need of. How does the saying go- if you want to be encouraged, be and encourager. Perhaps it will go somewhere and others will be blessed. Perhaps it will go no where. Regardless of popularity, it would be something that would push me beyond my introverted ways and be positive, productive and an encouragement to others (as well as myself!).
A stick and a puddle makes a happy boy!

     We attended our first MOPS meeting this month. We were a part of MOMS Club in PA. Although the two organization both support moms, they are organized quite differently. MOMS Club was all about playdates. It was wonderful getting to be with mamas who were in the same place in their parenting journey as I am (ie our smaller group was for children two and under). I enjoyed gatherings involving mamas and children. However, there were times I wished for an occasion in which I could be "off duty" for just a little bit. The MOPS group seems to be just that. From what I can tell, it's the opposite in format in that it focuses on the mamas. The children are separated into age-specific groups and cared for by individuals elsewhere. This separation feels really strange to me. For one, I'd never left my children under the care of anyone but myself or my husband- ever. Second, I missed getting to know the mama-child connection of everyone. Perhaps when we get to our permanent house, we can try to create some playdates for Tennyson's age group. Maybe I could try the book club idea again. (I've been told by another Mama that she wishes there were playdates in addition to the offical meeting, and so I'm encouraged to make this happen in the future!). Although the group is different, it is nice to have this resource of mamas and children.
10 months old!
(It took days to get this picture. She's on the move these days and so hard to capture!

     It seems as though Tennyson and Annelise have matured so much this past month. Annelise decided that she'd like to crawl and just popped up on her hands and knees one day and did it! She's been able to go everywhere since. Her mobility has been the key for she detaching from me (she's been a strong "velcro baby"). She has been much more content, which has been wonderful. She moving around so easily has also raised new concerns though. For one, she can get to prohibited objects and place them in her mouth. Second, the rent house is completely tiled (we've learned to be a Texas/southwest thing). The hard surface is tough on her knees and even tougher on her little head when she falls. She's learning her limits though. 

     Another limit she's learning is sleeping preferences. It became increasingly apparent to us that she has reached a point of being able to dictate how and when she would sleep. Not only did this require the rest of the family to bend around her, but she also wasn't getting adequate rest. Therefore, we began sleep training. We read a couple of books, feed a bottle, rock for ten minutes and then lay her down and step out of the room. In two minutes, we go back in and reassure her with "Shh, it's sleepy time" and a gentle touch. Then, walk out again. In four minutes, we go back in again in the same fashion. Then, six minutes. Then, eight minutes. And so on and so forth. Eventually, she does put herself to sleep. Even though she is upset for the first bit, she has learned to put herself to sleep and then back to sleep when she wakes. She actually sleeps better now than she ever has! (She previously would nap for only 20 minutes and sleep at night in only 2 hour increments. We know now that she simply hadn't learned to put herself to sleep without a prop (me)! I wish we had sleep trained sooner because that 20 min/2 hour pattern of sleep for ten months has been ...well, let's say, I would not choose to go that route again haha). 
Crawling girl!

     Tennyson is an ever curious two year old. We're amazed every day at the things he says and can comprehend! We joke about him being a two year old but having the language skills of a three year old. He's a constant flow of questions- "What's that?" or "What's in there?" or "What happened?" I hear those three questions all day. I made a tally one morning, and counted 32 times he asked one of those questions in just three hours! Phew! It's no surprise that he does not play much with toys or even watch many videos/programs..  he's much more engaged in the larger world around him! He wants to know what something is and how it works... for everything. When we do turn on the television for him, really enjoys "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood," but lately he's been more interested in "Reading Rainbow." It's rather amusing to us that he has little interest in cartoons or other programs intended for his age, but he loves "Reading Rainbow" and "Mister Rogers." I suppose they're better at exploration and explanation. haha
27 months old!

     He is still a two year old who is learning all about handling emotions and acceptable behaviors though. When need be, we've begun instituting "time out" using a time out mat for repeated, willful undesirable behaviors. It is effective! We have seen improvement in certain areas. Even though the process can be taxing, he learning acceptable behavior is so much nicer than constant battles and tantrums! He can enjoy time with the rest of the family, and we can enjoy time with him. That's a concept that we desire to be teaching him. We also desire to teach him that he must continue to behave a certain way despite conditions (ie it's okay to be angry, frustrated etc., but it's not okay to scream, throw things etc). 

      As I mentioned, he's not one to simply play with a given toy or even a room of toys. His need for exploration and curiosity can result in some less than desirable means of amusement. Therefore, I've made a greater effort towards "purposeful play" or "tot school" this month. We began using lessons from Character First to discuss the concept of obedience. We listened to the song and we I sang and did the hand motions each morning at breakfast. We also did a couple of the craft projects, which was a lot of fun. I'm really impressed with Character First, and will continue to use the lessons along side our other lessons/activities. We took jumping back into daily activities slow this past month, but I intend to do many more next month. My goal is to do Character First lesson on patience on Tuesdays and Thursdays and M is for Monster on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. It's so nice to have that moment in the day for us to do something hands-on and one-on-one! That's what this time is more about than "school." I'm looking forward to more next month!
"Tot school" with homemade finger paints

    This month has been calmer and more pleasant. I think we're finding our new groove here, which is such a relief. Looking forward to what may be in store for our family next month! :)

Did you notice? This blog page now has an accompanying Facebook page. On that page, I'll be sharing links to latest blog posts, links to other blog pages that I've found to offer encouragement and practical tips, products (including books) we're enjoying, and more. One big purpose for creating a Facebook page for the blog is the ability to live stream. The live stream videos will mainly focus on sharing brief bits of encouragement or perhaps a practical tip for the day. You can watch them live, or whenever you have a spare moment. (I like to watch while washing dishes). I've thoroughly enjoyed writing and posting a new blog post each week, and look forward to extending the Our Homemaking Story blog in a new way. Regardless of how popular (or unpopular) either of these entities become, the heart will always be the same. It's still a journal of our journey of pursuing home and family through homemaking. My heart is that these pages will be a source of encouragement and maybe even a helpful resource to anyone who may be interested. 
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