Thursday, December 15, 2011

Decisions, Decisions, part 2

Back to the decision-making process we were talking about two days ago, once I've analyzed my motives to make sure I'm not making a decision for the wrong reasons, it's time to move forward. Here's what I do:

1) Pray . . . unfortunately I don't always do this first, but obviously this is the right place to start. I pray not just that I'll make the right decision, but also that my thought process will be clear, that I'll hear the voice of the Holy Spirit, and that people will give me good advice.

2) Begin with the end in mind. What is my goal in raising these kids we've been given to nurture and love? I've touched on this in my 100 things posts (which I really will get back to at some point). It's easy to get so caught up in the daily chores of parenting that we forget the end goal, which for me is to raise kids who turn into adults who love Jesus and serve others with the gifts they've been given. And I'd like them to well-rounded in the process and have good priorities and values for their lives. As I make decisions about various things along the way, I want all my decisions to contribute to, or at least not detract from, that end goal.

3) Leave margin. This is a hard one in our culture. Kids need to play, to get outside, to be creative, to explore the world and discover their place in it. And all those things take time. Lots of it. If we fill their schedule so full that they don't have downtime, they will miss out on all of those things that are so important for their development. Sometimes margin means cutting out weekend activities (other than church, of course). Can you even imagine that? If you can't, maybe it's time to consider it as a possibility. Sometimes it means scaling back on those things you've always done. Sometimes it means scheduling a family vacation even though you don't have enough money for your dream vacation--just do something simple.

4) Consider the whole family. Sometimes a child needs to sacrifice an activity they want to do because it's not good for the rest of the family. Sometimes a child needs to sacrifice their daily nap so you can go to an older child's activity. It's good for kids to learn to think of others as well as themselves, so what looks like a sacrifice may turn out to be just what that child needed--a chance to serve their family.

5) Do the best you can, and then let it go. Once you've weighed all the factors, make a decision and then don't keep second-guessing it. Don't keep beating yourself up because you had to make a tough call and your child is trying to make you feel guilty about it. They'll get over it, and you will too, and down the road maybe a different decision will be the best one. Just because you are opting out of ballet for this semester does not mean you'll never do it again, it just means you're not doing it this semester. Rest in the knowledge that you made the best decision you could.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Decisions, Decisions

Before the baby is born you wonder if you've chosen the right doctor. And then you wonder if you should get vaccines (you should), and which ones, and when. And when to start solids, and which sleeping-through-the-night method to try. And which organic foods are worth the money. And then you wonder if you're sending them to school at the right time and for the right number of days. And then you wonder if you should hold them back before starting kindergarten. And which school you should send them to. And then you wonder if you should start an instrument, and which one, and when. And you wonder which soccer league is really the best for your child. And then you wonder if the friends your child has chosen are okay, and what you should do about it if they aren't. And then you have to help them make the decision about which college to attend. Sometimes it seems like parenting is one long string of decisions, and they seem to get harder and harder.

Every time I face one of these decisions, it seems like I have to remind myself of how to go about this decision-making process. So in the interests of reminding myself and maybe helping someone else along the way, here is part one of a two-part series on how to make these tough parenting decisions. Here is how not to make decisions.

1) Do not make your decisions out of fear. One of the most common commands in the Bible is "do not fear." As believers, we know that God is always with us, working all things for our good. So there's really no reason to fear. One area I often see fear as a decision motivator is in the choice of schooling. I think there are a lot of good reasons to homeschool, but sometimes I run across people who are homeschooling because they are afraid of the big bad public schools or afraid their child won't be able to function in that setting (without giving them the chance to try it). Sometimes we also make decisions because we're afraid about the money involved. It's important to be prudent, of course, but we also need to trust God to provide if we think we're supposed to do something.

2) We shouldn't make a decision for our kids because of our own reputation or needs. If I for some reason decide I need to have my child quit soccer in the middle of the season and it makes me look bad or irresponsible or harsh, so be it. My needs should not come before my child's needs.

3) We should not decide things for our children based on our preferences or as a way to fix our own past. If you always wished you could have a picture with Santa Claus but your 3-year-old is terrified of him, don't make the poor child sit on Santa's lap. If you really hate listening to beginner violin but your child is dying to try it out and gentle persuasion methods aren't working, get over your own preferences.

4) Decisions shouldn't be based on habit. So you've had all your children start piano lessons at age 4. If your fifth child has other issues that make it seem like that's not a good call, break the tradition. Or if your child has always played baseball but suddenly hates it, don't make them keep playing just because you're always the coach and that's the sport you like.

5) Here's the hard one: don't decide things based on what so-and-so is doing. Maybe their kids are very spiritually advanced and they keep them in "big church" every week. That doesn't mean you need to do the same thing--your kids may be better off in Sunday school. Or maybe your first child had always done sports, but child number two isn't interested in or good at sports. Let them pick their own activity. Or maybe you talk to the parents of your kids' friends and realize they have their kids in sports and music and art classes. Don't let that make you feel like you better do all those to keep up or foster the friendship even though your schedule is already overloaded. Make your decisions based on your child and your family.

6) And finally, don't make your decisions based on emotion and stress. Give yourself time to think things out and pray. And above all, don't worry about every decision as if it's a life-or-death thing for your children. Parents can do everything right and end up with troubled children, and parents can do a lot of things wrong and end up with amazing children. In the end, it isn't up to us. God has a plan for each child, and our job is to try to work with what he's doing and pray that our children will do the same. Sometimes we'll get it right, and sometimes we'll get it wrong, but we mustn't let these decisions freak us out along the way. Sometimes our kids will do the right thing and sometimes they won't, but we can't make those decisions for them.

Up tomorrow (or maybe Thursday): How TO make these decisions.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Aldi Menus, Take 2

This is one of those weeks were I need to be on top of the meal planning, and probably you do too, so here's another list of Aldi recipes with a grocery list. Enjoy!

Cranberry chicken and mashed potatoes and green beans
Three cheese chicken penne pasta bake and salad
Chinese casserole and a salad
Hamburger soup (crock pot) and rolls
Breakfast dinner (pancakes and eggs, add some bacon if you want)
Throw in ingredients for chili and a few frozen pizzas to get you through the weekend.

Grocery list:
bbq sauce
soy sauce
salad dressing
whole-berry cranberry sauce
pancake mix
chicken breasts
2 lb. ground beef
frozen veggies
spaghetti sauce
1 can diced tomatoes
parmesan cheese
penne pasta
fresh spinach
salad ingredients
green beans
rolls, or ingredients for homemade bread
cream cheese
mozzarella cheese
cheddar cheese
onion soup mix
1 can cream of chicken soup
1 can cream of mushroom soup

Cranberry chicken: place chicken breasts (either bone-in or boneless) in a 9x13 pan. Mix 1 can whole-berry cranberry sauce, 1 pkg. of onion soup mix, and 1 c of bbq sauce. Pour on top and bake at 350 until done (bone-in breasts will take longer than boneless).

Three Cheese Chicken Penne Pasta Bake: 1 1/2 c. multigrain penne pasta, uncooked
1 pkg. (9 oz) fresh spinach leaves
1 lb. boneless chicken breasts, cooked and cut into bite-size pieces
1 jar (14 1/2 oz) spaghetti sauce
1 can (14 1/2 oz) diced tomatoes, drained
2 oz. Neufchatel Cheese, cubed (could also use cream cheese)
1 c. (I used a little more) part skim Mozzarella cheese
2 T. parmesan cheese

Heat oven to 375.
Cook pasta, adding spinach to boiling water for last 1 minute.
Put chicken in a pan and add sauce and tomatoes; bring to boil and simmer 3 min. or until chicken is done.
Stir in Neufchatel cheese.
Drain pasta mixture; return to pan.
Stir in chicken mixture and mozzarella and spoon into 2-qt. baking dish. Bake 20 min., then sprinkle with remaining cheeses and bake an additional 3 minutes.

Chinese Casserole
1 lb. ground beef
1 medium onion, chopped
1 can cream of mushroom soup (I use cream of celery because we don’t like mushrooms)
1 can cream of chicken soup
1 ½ c water
1 c dry (uncooked) rice
¼ c soy sauce
Pepper to taste
Chinese noodles and slivered almonds, optional

Brown the ground beef with the onion. Place in a 2 qt casserole, then mix in remaining ingredients. Cover and bake at 350° for 30 minutes. Remove cover, stir, and continue baking for 30 more minutes with the cover off. Sprinkle with Chinese noodles and slivered almonds during the final few minutes.

Hamburger Soup
1 lb. lean ground beef, browned
2 potatoes, diced
2 stalks celery, sliced
salt and pepper
1-2 onions, diced
1 bag frozen mixed veggies
1 can condensed tomato soup
1 1/4 c water

Toss it in a crock pot and cook for a few hours. If it doesn't look like enough liquid, add either a can of tomato juice or another can of tomato soup and some more water. I know I've made this recipe before, but the liquid amount is looking off to me. This would also be good with beer or red wine as part of the liquid.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Thursday, December 8, 2011

A Birthday Cake for a King

I know many people who make a birthday cake for Jesus on or around Christmas. While I've always liked the idea, I've never done it because I prefer cookies to cake, and there are always plenty of those around. But this year I'm going to make one. Keri has a wonderful tradition I'm going to adopt for our family.

Each year she sets out a jar, and anytime someone in the family does something kind for someone else, a birthday candle goes into the jar. When Christmas Eve arrives, the birthday candles in the jar are put on Jesus' birthday cake.
The girls were delighted last night because when I came home from the store with the birthday candles and introduced the idea, they had just cleaned their room without being asked and I told them that definitely counted as doing something kind for Mom. Instant success!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Christmas Joy

Apparently the Christmas rush is starting to get to me, because I have missed a few days of posting lately. It's easy to let that happen in December. I keep finding myself tempted to get stressed out about all the seasonal activities added onto our already overloaded schedule. And yet I love Christmas, and I want to do it all. It's not that I feel guilty if I don't get to enjoy my favorite holiday traditions: going to the singalong Messiah, driving around looking at lights and drinking hot chocolate, finishing up all my homemade Christmas gifts for friends and family, having the girls' friends over to decorate cookies, baking with the kids, making Christmas ornaments. . . . I feel deprived if I don't get to do all those things.

This article discusses the possibility of enjoying Christmas the secular holiday and having a separate "Jesus Day" rather than trying to mix the two. I think in the end that probably just looks like enjoying both the gift-giving and more secular aspects of Christmas and the Advent meditation rather than pushing the secular stuff away. In other words, I think that's what I do. I love Christmas movies and Frank Sinatra singing "White Christmas." I love the mall decorations and buying a new ornament each year. But I don't let that overshadow Advent readings, nativity sets, and church services. I like the idea that even people who deny the existence of God unknowingly get in on the celebration of Jesus' birth. As the Creator, he certainly deserves a big to-do over his birthday.

As Christmas approaches, I find the to-do list getting longer and my patience getting shorter. And yet the one gift I want to give my children this Christmas (and every day) is a cheerful mother. And so I'm going to remind myself when my time and temper are getting short to take a breath and give them the kind of Christmas I want them to be able to look back on with happy memories. Not so packed full of activities that we're all left breathless, but full of fun. Full of music and baking and quiet moments reading about Jesus' birth around the tree. Full of traditions and warmth and laughter. Full of friends and family. And most of all, full of Jesus.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Shameless Plug

You know all that jewelry I've been working on during my 45 minute art class each day? Well, you can see it all and ooh and aah and maybe buy something if you come to downtown Wheaton this Saturday between 10 and 5. I'll be with about eight or ten other crafters in the basement of an office at 117 Wesley. That's across from the parking lot that's behind Eggclectic and the Wheaton Theater, just west of Main on Wesley.
Here's what I have for sale, and you can place an order for bracelets or any particular thing you're looking for.

Crafters will be donating a portion of their proceeds to Restoration Gateway, helping orphans in Uganda, so you'll be supporting a good cause while you get some Christmas shopping done.

For more info, go to

Grab a friend and come on down to see us! 

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Christmas Crafties

Tis the season when I start buying craft supplies for projects I'll never get to. Somehow the Christmas spirit just brings out the crafty urge in me. So, for those of you who have the same urge, here is a post all about cute Christmas crafties.

Here is my favorite homemade ornament. It's easy, cute, good for little people, and uses materials you already have.

To make this little sheep you start with a manilla folder. Cut it into a sheep shape and paint the head and feet black. Then wrap the whole thing in sheep-colored yarn (white or grey or maybe black). Tie a little red ribbon around his neck and add a bell if you want to be fancy.

For those of you with babies or toddlers, here are two handprint ornaments I've done.

The top one is made of craft foam. If you can get the child to spread their thumb apart from the rest of their fingers when you do their handprint, you can cut it into a mitten shape. The bottom one is made of wood. I'm not sure where you can get those now--they didn't have them at Joann's when I was there this week.

And here's my old standby of the last few years.
These are at Joann's right now for 50 cents each. It's fun to see the progression of coloring skills as the child gets older, and I love having each year's school pictures on the tree.

What are your favorite homemade ornaments? Share them in the comments section!

Monday, November 28, 2011

Christmas Sadness, Christmas Gladness

It's time to begin Christmas decorating and festivities, but my heart is heavy and I don't feel very celebratory. News of a family in crisis, a tragic plane crash, unemployment, and miscarriage have filled my e-mail inbox this week. I ache for these dear people. How can I get in the holiday spirit when there is so much wrong in the world? How can I celebrate with my children when so many people are brokenhearted and hopeless?

But then I remember the two messages the angels gave at Christmas. First, the angel told both Mary and the shepherds, "fear not!" Don't be afraid of the glory of the angels. Don't be afraid of the task before you. Don't be afraid of the future, or of what might happen. Don't be afraid of the sorrows of this fallen world. The Prince of Peace is here.

And then the angels told the shepherds that Christmas holds "Good news of great joy for all people." And what good news it is! All of the bad news in this world pales in comparison to the great joy of the incarnation. Christmas isn't just for people who are happy and want to celebrate. It is perhaps even more for those who sorrow.

This babe in the manger is also the Savior, the one who redeems even the worst tragedy and comforts us in our sorrow. He is the one who wept at the grave of Lazarus and promises us that all things will work for the good of those who love him. He is the one who came to save us for eternity and holds all of our tears in a bottle while we're waiting for that eternal perfection.

So maybe it's appropriate that my thoughts are filled with heavy burdens during Advent. Perhaps I need to be reminded of why Jesus came. If the world were perfect and happy like a Christmas-card picture all the time, we wouldn't need a Savior. But life is messy, and we are sinners in desperate need of a Savior.

And so our loving God broke into our fallen world to bring us peace. He became a helpless, impoverished baby so that he could save shepherds and kings and everyone in between. He came for the husband trapped in pain and sin and for his abandoned wife. He came for the mother who's lost her child and for the man who's lost his livelihood and identity. He came for the bereaved and heavy laden. He came for the people who are full of happiness and wonder this season and for those who are hopelessly sad. He came for you and for me, in all our joys and sorrows.

And even better than that, he's coming again to make all things right again. Hallelujah! Come, Lord Jesus.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Friday Funnies

Have you ever wondered if elephants sneeze? Never say I didn't give you useful information here.


Thursday, November 17, 2011

Art Class, Take 2

It's been a little over a week since I posted about art class. I ended up taking some time off on the weekend, but I've spent much more time in my jewelry workshop this week than usual. Here is some of what I've made this week.

And here is my ever-present "helper."

In this process of being more disciplined about making time for creativity, I've discovered a few things. First of all, it's really fun. I keep feeling like I'm on vacation, because usually it's only at Gram's house that I work on jewelry this much. Feeling like you're on vacation even when you're at home . . . by yourself . . . with 5 children . . . including a 19-month-old . . . well, that's priceless!

Related to that, I think I'm much happier when I'm being creative. It's not that I'm a super-creative person. My drawing consists of stick figures that my children make fun of. I'm more of a practical, organized type of person who likes everything in my world to have a purpose and a place. But each of us has some creative outlet that we are good at, and if we find that one thing and make time for it, I think it makes for a much happier life.

I also think I've been more productive this week than usual. It's kind of like that old adage that if you want something to get done, ask a busy person. When I have more that has to get done (including some paid work projects this week! Hooray!), I somehow manage to get it all done. For some reason, spending 45 minutes or so in the morning creating something gives me the extra energy later in the day to get my chores and other work done too.

So, if you haven't found your creative outlet, that thing that you look forward to doing, that thing that makes you lose track of time while you're immersed in it, that thing that gives you energy and enthusiasm . . . I encourage you to find it. Sign up for a class in something you've always wanted to do. Take a trip to the craft store and see what looks like it might be fun. Ask your friends to show you their hobbies and see if something sparks an interest for you.

And if you do have that creative thing that you love to do but you keep not having time for it, give yourself the gift of a daily art class.

p.s. All that jewelry and more is for sale. Anyone ready for some early Christmas shopping? You know where to find me;)

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Real Mail

It's clean out your fridge day. Are you cleaning yours? I'm not, but I did clean the floors, so that's something. And I raked leaves. That's huge for me.

Yesterday I got a letter in the mail from the mother of one of my childhood friends. It was delightful to hear from her after all these years. We were never very close; I probably played over at this woman's house a handful of times in all those years I was in school with her daughter. But it was so nice to hear from her and sense that she's interested in what has become of me.

And it made me think, how often do I wonder about someone from my past, but don't try to make contact? Writing a letter or an email can be kind of scary. I worry that the recipient will think I'm strange, or that they won't write me back and I'll sit around feeling like they have rejected me, even though probably they thought my letter was nice but were too busy to write back. Or worst of all, maybe they won't even remember me.

Letter writing is a real ministry. There's just nothing like the feeling of a sweet note waiting for you in the mailbox when you least expect it. People don't hang onto emails, but think of all the letters you've saved over the years. I think of my cherished letters from my grandma, who used to write letters to us every week. And notes and letters from my friend who is so good at writing "real" letters.

So I'm going to write this woman back, and I'm also going to keep her letter to remind me that it's nice to get "real mail" when you least expect it. And while I'm at it, I'm going to pay it forward and write a note to someone else. I don't know who yet; maybe someone from my past or maybe someone I see regularly. If you'll join me, we can start a letter-writing campaign and resurrect a lost art.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Groceries! (and Aldi recipes)

My friends and I have a joke that whenever we get together with any group of ladies, at some point the conversation turns to grocery shopping. Favorite stores, recipes, deals we've found . . . somehow it always comes up. So I guess it was inevitable that it would come up at some point on this blog. I'm sorry. If you're already bored, just come back tomorrow or whenever I write something new.

We have this great, cheap grocery store around here (and most places around the country, it seems) called Aldi. I sometimes hate Aldi, and I sometimes love it. I remember going there with my  mom when I was little and getting some gross cheese and not liking the smell. Aldi has come a long way since then. I find they have more and more things every time I go (like last time I went after a long break from going there, they had almond milk. Hooray!). Anyway, when I'm on one of my anti-Aldi strikes, I wish someone would give me a week's worth of menus and a shopping list to get me back in the habit of going there. So here I am to give you just that. And I have some more menu ideas, so I may come back with another one next week. (I bet you can't wait!)

Grocery list (not including milk, eggs, flour, etc.--and one recipe calls for wheat germ, which you can make do without, but it also keeps for a long time in the freezer, so you could buy some to have on hand)
Tortilla chips
Potato chips, or a healthier side dish if you prefer
Bbq sauce
Italian Bread crumbs
Ranch dressing
1 box jif cornbread mix (or make your own from scratch)
Tomato juice
1 can tuna
1 box macaroni noodles
1 can black beans
Taco seasoning
1 jar of applesauce or desired fruit side dish
4 cups Shredded cheddar cheese, plus more for a topping on the taco soup
Cottage cheese
Sour cream if desired
Salad ingredients
Potatoes or cauliflower
Green onions
yellow onions
Sandwich buns
1 lb ground beef (or buy 2lbs, cook it all up, and freeze half for next week)
Frozen chicken breasts
2 cans cream of mushroom or celery soup
1 pkg frozen chopped spinach (occasionally they have this) or frozen broccoli or fresh spinach
1 pkg frozen mixed veggies
1 pkg frozen peas
Ingredients for muffins or sweet bread, or a mix

Breaded chicken/mashed potatoes or cauliflower/salad
Taco soup with toppings/cornbread
Overnight Tuna Casserole/salad
Bbq chicken/chips/applesauce
Crustless Quiche/sweet bread

1) Breaded Chicken: dip chicken in ranch dressing, then bread crumbs. Bake in greased 9x13 pan at 350 until done (30 minutes probably). Serve with potatoes or cauliflower and a salad.

Mashed cauliflower: cook cauliflower on stove in chicken broth or chicken bouillon and minced garlic, drain and mix or blend with butter, milk, and/or sour cream.

2) Taco Soup: Brown 1 lb. ground beef with chopped onion. Throw in crock pot with 1 can tomato juice, 1 pkg. frozen veggies, 1/2 pkg. taco seasoning, and 1 can undrained black beans. Cook on low for 4 hours or high for 2 hours. Serve with shredded cheese, tortilla chips, and sour cream. And cornbread.

3) Overnight Tuna Casserole: in a bowl, mix 2 cans cream of celery or cream of mushroom soup and 2 cups of milk. Add 1 can tuna, 2 cups uncooked macaroni noodles, 1 cup frozen peas (if desired), 1/2 c green onions, and 1 1/2 c shredded cheddar cheese. Pour into greased casserole dish. Cover and refrigerate overnight. Cook at 350 for 35 minutes covered, uncover and top with 1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese and bake 5-10 minutes more. Serve with a salad.

4) BBQ Chicken: Toss frozen chicken breasts and 1 jar of bbq sauce in the crockpot. Cook on high for 4 hours or until done. Shred chicken. Serve on buns with chips and applesauce.

5) Crustless Quiche: Beat together 4 eggs and 6 Tbsp flour. Add 1 pkg frozen chopped spinach, drained, or other veggies and 2 c cottage cheese and 2 c grated cheddar cheese and 1/2 tsp salt. Pour into well-greaesd 9x13 pan. Sprinkle with wheat germ to make a crust. Bake uncovered 350 degrees for 45 minutes. Serve with muffins or a quick bread.

That is the original recipe; however, it is never enough for our large family. So I use 12 eggs and extra veggies and keep everything else the same and it works fine.

So there you have it: five super easy dinners that you can get all the ingredients for in one trip to Aldi. Add in a couple of frozen pizzas (or make your own) and you've got the week pretty well covered. Do you want another week's worth of recipes next week, or is this too boring? Let me know.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Jesse Tree

Every December I set out once again to do a Jesse Tree. A Jesse Tree is a way of tracing salvation history throughout the Bible, from Genesis to advent and beyond. Each day you do a Scripture reading and then place an ornament on a small tree that reminds you of that story.

Last year we used this book, which was pretty good. The kids were engaged in the story of a grumpy woodcarver who talks to a little boy about each story as he carves it. I would say this is a way to do the Jesse Tree that is accessible to younger kids.


As far as the tree itself goes, we have been gathering ornaments for a few years, but some of them are really hard to find, and I haven't had the energy to devote to making ornaments. My sister is sewing beautiful ones out of felt, but I just don't have the artistic talent to design them nor the inclination to sew them.

But this year I discovered this printable from Ann Voskamp that I just love. So I subscribed to her blog (which I read pretty often anyway) so I could get access to it. I think I've finally discovered some paper Jesse Tree ornaments that I like.

I'd encourage you to find a way to do the Jesse Tree that works for you. It's a great way to keep the true meaning of Christmas in your mind and heart throughout the season. And if you haven't done it before, now is a great time to start making plans and finding ornaments--Christmas will be upon us before you know it!